14 Feb 2020

Sport: Little sis jumps in for Olympic dream

12:59 pm on 14 February 2020

Samoan sisters Anne and Bridget Cairns are racing in the Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships underway in Sydney and although it's Anne who is chasing an Olympic qualification, it's little sister Bridget that has raised eyebrows.

Sisters Bridget (left) and Anne Cairns (right) paddling in the 2016 Oceania qualifier

Sisters Bridget (left) and Anne Cairns (right) paddling in the 2016 Oceania qualifier Photo: Carolyn J Cooper

Anne is a three time white water rafting world champion and has previously raced for New Zealand in sprint kayaking and waka ama before making the switch to represent Samoa, including a debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics and a collection of three Va'a medals at the 2019 Pacific Games.

Bridget has no experience but she's been coaxed to pull up a paddle.

"I am that older sister that seems to keep offering her up for all these little adventures... she kind of gets roped into things via me putting her forward but she just jumps in and gets it done," said Anne.

"We just don't have those numbers of canoe paddlers like Europe and North America or anything because it's really new [and] it's a growing sport down here."

Bridget had her first taste of paddling four years ago when Anne asked her to compete with her in some of the double races and she's doing it again.

"It's pretty tough on her to have her kayaking stint be so far apart but we do try and practice a bit but yeah she's awesome [for] coming and helping us out."

Bridget will join Anne in the women's canoe C2-500 and kayak K2-500 sprints while Anne will also race in the K1-200 event.

Sister Bridget (right) supporting Anne at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Sister Bridget (right) supporting Anne at the 2016 Rio Olympics Photo: Facebook / Bridget Cairns

Despite having her first proper training in a canoe on Wednesday, Bridget said it was her confidence and trust in her sister that made it so easy to pick up a paddle.

"I know how much of a challenge it is for her to kind of get her spots and how hard she works so if I'm needed to help out then I'm happy to help," said Bridget.

"That's the only reason I can happily agree to it because I know that she, especially in these two-person boats, that she will hold it stable and take the technical aspects and I've just got to do my job.

"I'm keeping out of trouble, trying to keep my balance but all the technical aspects of it is taken care of so I don't have that pressure on me."

Bridget was originally looking to compete in the C-1 200m sprint but is now leaving it to Anne.

"The canoe side of it is brand new for me. I've had no experience with it. I had a good go on it but it's probably best that Anne does that because she has the core strength and paddling technique to fall back on. That would be a lot of pressure for me to do that race and to try and wing it.

"My primary focus is to just be here to support Anne more than anything... to support the rest of the team or any of the paddlers here from the Pacific. If there's anything I can just help out with whether it's organising bits and pieces or picking stuff up, I can just play that support role."

Although Anne's focus will be on qualifying through the K1-200 sprint, she said sharing experiences with her sister was something special.

"We've always got on really well. We have quite different personalities where I'm one of those let's just get out there and get it done whereas she's more methodical and definitely thinks things through a bit and she helps reign me in. It's real good to have her here with me".

"Especially qualifying in Rio, it was super special to have her there and the same again here. She's one of my biggest supporters and it's cool to have family so it's awesome."

"I didn't have to persuade her too much. She's pretty open to trying things out and I think she realised that it would definitely be a big help but also, it helps get her over to hang out, she gets to see me race and we get to share this experience together."

Quietly confident of Olympic Qualification

Expectations are that Anne will qualify this weekend with the Cairns whanau holding off any plans to make the championships in Sydney and instead plan to support from the sidelines in Tokyo later this year.

"The goal is I really want to get to Tokyo but when we talked about it with my coach, the goal was to just get me as fast as possible."

"I think I am [confident], not in the sense of I've got a big head and I feel really amazing but I just think I've done as much as I can. I haven't missed any training sessions and I've made sure I've done as much of the work that I can do leading into it."

"Based on knowing my competitors, I think I definitely have a chance so I just have to put together a good race."

Anne splits her time between Palmerston North and New Plymouth. She works full-time as a fire-fighter while also fitting in paddling sessions in between shifts.

A paddling session for Anne Cairns in Samoa

A paddling session for Anne Cairns in Samoa Photo: Facebook / Bridget Cairns

Coach Gavin Elmiger said Anne competed because she loved the sport, not because she wanted to win, and he had no doubts that she would qualify this week.

"She is an amazing athlete. She works full-time in the fire service and she works shift work.

"Every extra hour she's not working, she's trying to get as many hours she can to help her get leave to go to competitions and then she's trying to hold down full time training on an 8 day work week. For what she has to do she is doing absolutely amazing," he said.

"She loves what she does. She loves being on water so if she's not in a kayak, she's in the waka. If she's not in the waka she's on an ocean ski or the surf ski. Paddling, being out there, being active and just living her life to the fullest."

"I believe that if she has her best race, there's no doubt in my mind that she won't qualify."

Elmiger also coaches Clifton Tuva'a and Rudolph Williams, who are racing for Samoa in the men's sprints this week.

He said they hoped to enter a men's duo race at the Olympics, which would be a first for the Pacific nation.

Tonga and the Cook Islands will also be represented in the Ocean Championships this week, including Pita Taufatafoa, who is still chasing a third unrelated sport title for the Kingdom despite suffering an injury just over a week out from the event.

  • Sport: Tonga's Pita Taufatofua suffers injury blow