The Youth Olympic Games – Asia and Oceania

Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia

The first kiteboarding Olympians from Asia, Australia and NZ secure their route to the games


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia

Images: Alexandru Baranescu

The Youth Olympic Games qualifiers have been rolling on across the last couple of months and the Asia / Oceania qualifying event in Praburi, Thailand, was where the fastest young twintip racers in the region would battle it out for a place at the games this summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 


There were four spots up for grabs – two for the girls and two for the boys – and only the top ranked riders from each region (one girl and one boy) would be awarded one so the pressure was on from the start.


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - BischoppsMani Bischopps taking an interesting approach to cornering

On day one we saw some of the eventual division winners get off to a near-faultless start. Mani Bischopps from Australia had a solid first day, drawing on his extensive foil racing experience to separate himself from the pack as the clear leader of the Boy’s Oceania category. In the Girl’s Asia category, China’s Jingle Chen won all but her last race (which her Chinese teammate Kewen Li took) and Thai rider Sarun Rupchom had a similarly strong first day, losing just one race.

Both Chen and Rupchom were able to discard their losses so finished the day as clear division leaders and, in the Girl’s Oceania fleet, Pia Kitchin Gordon (NZ) had her path to victory already assured as she was the only rider in her division! #score!


On day two the pack began to reshuffle in the Boy’s Asia category. China’s Haoran Zhang took the lead and it looked like China’s grip over the Asia region was about to solidify itself.


Since twintip racing gained Olympic status, China has been really pushing their national team and they’re developing their riders and constantly looking for those extra winning percentages wherever they can find them. 


Dahui Zhai, head coach of the Chinese national team, discovered that the board could make his riders a vital one or two percent faster—though others reckon it could make them as much as six percent quicker—and so he put them all on the Gawa board in the hopes of giving them the edge. On day two it looked like his move was starting to pay off. 


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - Kewen LiChina’s Kewen Li on the Gawa board

“We’re really prepared to look for any advantage within the rules because this is so important to us,” said Zhai. “Take Jingle Chen, she’s been kiting since 2012, but some of our boys only started in 2016. So we have to try our best to find the best equipment to win the events and the places. I think it’s totally fair because the IKA made the rules. If it’s faster, that’s good for the event and for kiting.”


Take note: the second fastest female rider on the Chinese team, Kewen Li, only started kiting eight months before the event and she was the only rider to come close to the unbeatable Jingle Chen. Extensive training to this point. The Chinese team aren’t playing around!



However, on day three the chance of a clean sweep for the Chinese in the Asian divisions began to slip. Bischopps and Chen were now basically unreachable in their divisions (and Gordon had no contenders to worry about so was racing in a mixed fleet with the boys) but the Boy’s Asia category was becoming contentious. 


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - Boys divisionFull speed through the turns in the Boy’s Asia division


Rupchom and Christian Tio from the Philippines were able to push past Zhang and, at the end of that day, there was just one point between the three of them. The margins for error were super slim! 



This meant the stakes were high come day four and Tio rose to the occasion. He’d had a slow start at the event, perhaps because he’s usually a freestyler not a racer, but his experience as a competitor came to the fore. Rupchom’s nerves had begun to get the better of him and he’d started making mistakes, including an OCS (On Course Start) which saw him disqualified from one race, and Tio capitalised on his errors. 


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - Christian TioChristian Tio out front on the way into the last turn

By the end of day four he had a six point lead on the division and that didn’t change on day five. He had momentum, Haoran and Rupchom couldn’t rise to it, and he clinched the win and his route to the games in Buenos Aires. 



Speaking at the end of day five he said, “It’s been a tough week!“. He added, “It’s been a goal to get to the Olympics and we’ve been waiting for kiting to get in to the Games for some time, so it feels pretty good to qualify and have the honour of representing my country. Now I’m it, I’ll do my best to win it.”


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - Jingle Chen
Jingle Chen was in a class of her own in Pranburi

Jingle Chen had had a much easier week it must be said, and had even been able to sit out the last couple of races due to commanding such a solid lead, but she knows the real work is yet to come. “The Olympics are so important to me, so I’m happy to be going,” said Chen. “But right now I feel my level is going to go down, so I’ll have to train hard. I was up against the European girls in Italy last year, and they’re very fast.”


Youth Olympic Qualifier - Asia - BischoppsBischopps putting his foot down for the folks Down Under

Bischopps was thrilled with his win. “I’m stoked to get the spot,” he said. “The Olympics is so prestigious, and now kiting has made it in. To be one of the first people going is amazing. I’ve always looked up to people who made it to the Olympics.”

All is not lost for the riders who didn’t make the cut this time around though. They’ll have one more chance to qualify in Hainan, China, from the 3rd to the 8th of May but their work will be cut out for them. All the riders from each region who’ve yet to secure a space at the Games will be there vying for a spot at the Olympic last chance saloon!





Top three boys Asia division (after 16 elimination rounds, four discards)

1: Christian Tio (PHI)                           18pts
2: Haoran Zhang (CHN)                       24pts
3: Sarun Rupchom (THA)                    26pts

Top three girls Asia division (after 16 races, four discards)

1: Jingle Chen (CHN) – 12pts
2: Kewen Li (CHN) – 23pts
3: Nichanan Rodthong (THA) – 35.3pts                                   

Top three boys Oceania division (after 16 races, four discards)

1: Mani Bisschops (AUS) – 12pts
2: Aaron Kenny (AUS) – 24pts
3: William Barlette (AUS) – 38pts

Top girl Oceania division (after 16 races, four discards)

1: Pia Kitchin Gordon (NZL) – 39pts


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