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Flying the flag for the Cook Islands
Women's laser radial sailing competitor, Helema Williams leads Team Cook Islands into London's Olympic stadium at the official opening ceremony.  She's one of 8 athletes representing the nation.   Three of the competitors had to wait until the last minute to find out they had gained 'wildcard' placings from the International Olympic Committee.  Team Cook Islands is 18 strong in total, with 10 officials accompanying the athletes.   The  Islands first competed in the Games in 1988, and this is the largest team the country has sent to date, albeit still one of the smallest in the world-wide sporting spectacular
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Helema Williams sailing for the Cook Islands at London 2012
Helema Williams in acton on Aitutaki lagoon
20 year old Helema from Manihiki is one of the wildcard entrants and is among 39 competitors in the Laser Radial Class at London.  

She began sailing Optis nine years ago, under the guidance of Arthur Neale who's the resident coach for Manihiki Sailing Club.  But with her home island surrounded by a massive lagoon, she was no stranger to the water and had been sailing in all weathers on the lagoon since she was a child.   She won the local island and then the Cook Islands national championships.

Now the veteran of numerous national and international competitions, she improved her world ranking in 2011 by a remarkable 180 places from 312 to 132, and subsequently to 109th.   

What the papers say....
'The Independent' newspaper of London talks of Helema taking on the world in the spirit of the Games.  "She may not expect to go home with a gold medal," it says,  "but, when she first takes to the water in anger, it will be the culmination of years and years of practicing, training, and listening to the constant encouragement of her mother, Catherine."  And it adds:  "Whatever happens over the next three weeks, that little island of Manihiki joins the annals of Olympic history."   
Read the full story
      Helema Williams
Josh Utanga
24 year old Josh is another of the wildcard entrants and a relative newcomer to his event.  He succesfully transferred from surf ski paddling to the Olympic discipline of canoe sprint in 2009.  He was selected by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) to represent Oceania at a development camp and went on to break the four minute barrier over 1,000 metres in the ICF canoe sprint world championships in Canada....the fastest time of anyone on the development programme.  An Australian beat him in the Olympic qualifying regatta in Sydney in March in the Open K1 200 metres.  His biggest supporters are his father and mother, Nga and Sandra, who have funded his career.

         Josh Utanga
Ready to take on the world
Determined to win
Heading for medal
Ella Nicholas in action
       Ella Nicholas

21 year old medical student, Ella was born and lives in New Zealand, but represents the islands as her father is from Rarotonga.  Many of her family live on the capital island or Aitutaki which is still home to her grandmother.  Her older brother - a competiton canoeist himself -  introduced her to the white water slalom when she was just 12, and she went on to national and international success.   She had a great start to the year coming third in the New Zealand Open in February against some of world's best.   (And my thanks to Ella for sending me the pictures above)
You can find out more about Ella at her own website or why not post a message of support on her Facebook page

Patrick Tuara from Mangaia is pictured left competing in one of the world's smallest competitons - the inter-village Kumete Sports on Rarotonga on 4th June.  But he's joining Patricia on the world platform in London.
    Patrick Tuara

Patricia Taea gets set to go
18 year old Patricia Taea holds the Cook Islands national record for the women's 100m sprint, clocking a time of 12.44 seconds at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2011. Most recently though, she achieved a new Indoor personal best of 8.06 seconds at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Turkey. That placed her 2nd in Oceania's region at the event. 
                Patricia Taea

Patricia Taea sprinting to the finish line
Joining him in London is 17 year old Celeste Brown who's now in her fourth year representing the Islands in international competitions.   And as well as  a punishing training schedule, this proud Islander has been studying at college and working as a swimming teacher.   Rower, Ella Nicholas (see above) is her cousin.    

        Celeste Brown

Celeste Brown
And although that wasn't an Olympic qualifying or selection time, he got one of the final 150 swimming places at the Games in accordance wtih a best performances points table   His 56.95 seconds time in the 100 metres freestyle race in Noumea was also a new Cook Islands record.   

Zac is based in Auckland, NZ and trains at Laser Swimming Club,  Mt Eden under coach,  Glenn Hamlyn.  He lived in Brunei for 7 years, training with the Brunei National Squad, then at the Bolles Swim Academy  before competing in the World Cup in New Caledonia.

18 year old Zac Payne is a double record breaker for the Islands.  He completed the 50 metres freestyle at the 2012 Oceania Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia at the beginning of June in a time of 25.5 seconds. 

        Zachary Tepaia Payne

             Luisa Peters
Luisa Peters ready for London 2012
She was the youngest in her class at the Commonwealth and Oceania weightlifting event in Samoa where she confidently and strongly pulled off six lifts - three in the snatch and three in the clean and jerk divisions.   All were clean and her best attempts were 80kg in the snatch and 98kg in the clean and jerk for a total lift of 178kg.
18 year old Luisa is the Cook Islands' only female weightlifter.   She's another wildcard entrant, but one who has just picked up two silver medals in a top  international competition. 

Luisa Peters shows its not just a man's sport
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