Dame Valerie Adams will headline the off-field line-up as 10,800 young athletes arrive in Tauranga next week to showcase their athletic talents at New Zealand’s biggest sporting tournament.
The 15th Anchor AIMS Games starts on Sunday, with sailing, cross country and gymnastics kick-starting a memorable week of sporting action.
Olympic and world shot putt champion Dame Valerie is the star attraction of Sunday’s opening ceremony at ASB Arena, speaking alongside Paralympian swimmer Nikita Howarth.
They’ll be joined by an array of international sporting talent through the week, including Olympic gymnast Dylan Schmidt, who won the trampolining gold medal for Waihi College at the 2009 AIMS Games.
ACC are hosting a series of warm up zones throughout the venues, with ambassadors including Black Ferns star Selica Winiata, who will drop into the rugby sevens at Blake Park on Monday, All White Te Atawhai Wihongi-Hudson who is heading to the football on Tuesday, and Silver Fern Kelly Jury will likewise be taking netball warm-ups on Tuesday and Friday.
Former New Zealand Sevens star DJ Forbes will visit the rugby sevens on Thursday, then later is the guest-speaker at a coaches and managers evening at Tauranga Intermediate.
Waikato-Bay of Plenty netballer Hayley Saunders will also spend time on Monday and Tuesday, running young players through drills and teaching them about injury prevention, while former Tall Black player Paora Winitana will be at the basketball finals.
Spread throughout the record 326 schools attending the tournament are more famous names; former All Black Kevin Schuler is coaching his youngest son’s Aquinas water polo team, Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn is coaching Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls’ hockey team, while former Silver Fern Leonie Leaver is helping guide the Saint Kentigern College netball squad.
The athletes themselves will be coming from all ends of the country, as well as Australia, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands.
They’ll be looking to emulate an increasingly impressive AIMS Games alumni, with a host of current sports starts having been through the tournament.
Considering there was only 750 athletes at the first AIMS Games in 2004, the names from that crop of talent are astounding; the hockey competition featured Olympic swimmer Matt Stanley (Matamata Intermediate), Black Sticks player Samantha Charlton (Otumoetai Intermediate) and world champion rower Zoe Stevenson (Tauranga Intermediate). On the football pitch, All Black hooker Nathan Harris (Te Puke Intermediate) kicked it around against Black Caps fast bowler Adam Milne (Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School) and Olympic sailor Thomas Saunders (Tauranga Intermediate), while top sprinter Mariah Ririnui also played netball for Tauranga Intermediate.
Since then, All White Alex Rufer starred for Palmerston North's title-winning AIMS Games squad in 2009, New Zealand surf lifesaving star and world surf ski champion Danielle McKenzie dominated the multisport and water polo in 2006 and 2007 and New Zealand women's rugby sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong was in the 2007 girls' soccer tournament team, representing Blockhouse Bay.
Commonwealth Games bronze-winning triathlete Tayler Reid is a former Gisborne Intermediate student who won gold in the multisport at AIMS in 2009, while his Commonwealth Games teammate and New Zealand’s fastest man Joseph Millar played for the Aquinas College hockey team in 2005. New Zealand sevens player Joe Webber turned out for Peachgrove in football that same year.
Black Sticks teammates Amy Robinson (2008) and Madi Doar (2011 and 2012) played hockey for Tauranga Intermediate and Kamo Intermediate respectively, as did men’s Black Sticks player Nic Woods (Peachgrove) in 2007.
Organisers have made several changes to the tournament this year, most notably with football moving to Papamoa’s Gordon Spratt Reserve and rugby sevens moving from Waipuna Park in Welcome Bay to the tournament hub at Blake Park.
Para-athletes will compete for the second year in a row in swimming and cross country.