Date: Thursday, 29 March 2018

Having six Academy Southland graduates in the New Zealand cycling team for the Commonwealth Games is no surprise to Jason McKenzie.

The academy's manager, McKenzie says the goal of every athlete in the two-year talent development programme is to compete at the elite level, such as the Games. 

"It's no accident we have six at the Games ... we've planned for this," McKenzie said. 

The six academy graduates – Emma Cumming, Natasha Hansen, Eddie Dawkins, Nick Kergozou, Bradly Knipe and Tom Sexton – are in the 20-member track cycling team at the Games, which are on the Gold Coast on April 4-15.

The graduates are members of Cycling Southland, which will also have another representative competing in Kirstie Klingenberg. 

"Getting to the Commonwealth Games showcases the hard work they [athletes] put in and what they've strived for," McKenzie said.

"The academy gives them the best possible opportunities to get to the next level and higher."

The yearly number of 20 to 24 members in the academy are enrolled in the first or second year programme. In just over 12 years of operating, the academy has turned out 150 high achieving athletes, with the best being Olympic and Commonwealth Games cycling medallist Eddie Dawkins.

Seven graduates competed at both the Glasgow (2014) and Delhi (2010) Commonwealth Games. 

McKenzie said the academy had coaches and experts in a variety of fields to give young athletes the best advice. All sports are catered for, including alpine skiing. 

Key academy programmes are strength conditioning, nutrition, mental skills and athlete life. The athlete life programme helps sports people with other parts of their life.

"If you're happy in life, you're a happy athlete," McKenzie said. 

He gained considerable satisfaction from seeing graduates progressing to national and overseas success.

"I love my job ... every day I work with people trying to get better.

"It's really cool seeing them realise their dreams because you know what's gone on behind the scenes.

"They're all genuine Southlanders working hard and love what they're doing."

Eleven athletes affiliated to Southland clubs or organisations will be in action at the Games, with the others being, netballers Shannon Francois and Te Paea Selby-Rickit and shooters Sally Johnston and Scott Wilson. 

 - Stuff

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