Manly Beach's Naomi Flood looking to continue proud Olympic tradition
MANLY BEACH, Australia (AFP) — Sitting in her surf-ski kayak, Naomi Flood easily cuts through the waves of Manly Beach as an able life-guard, patrolling the water for swimmers in difficulty.
But like many before her, Flood is not only a volunteer at the century-old Manly Life Saving Club, she's a member of the Australian Olympic team heading to London.
The Sydney club is something of a breeding ground for elite athletes, with members competing at the Olympics since 1908. Champion swimmers, kayakers and even a bronze-medal winning Olympian alpine skiier are among them.
"I think being such a good community as we are, it's really strong and it does breed that killer instinct, that competitive edge," Flood explains from the beach after training one morning.
"A lot of the kids come through, and you see other people progressing and you do want to take a part of it, and you do want to be up there with those people and be considered an Olympian."
Flood is one of at least five club figures set to compete at the Games — the latest in a tradition that began at the 1908 Olympics, also in London, in which Manly's Thomas Richards won gold as part of Australia's rugby team.
Joining her in London will be fellow kayakers Murray Stewart and Jo Bridgen-Jones, and swimmer Tom Fraser-Holmes. Former Manly member Ky Hurst will also be there, contesting the gruelling 10-kilometre open water swim.
Many Olympians have a surf life-saving background — not only from Manly — and have long been involved in the clubs which were established in the early 1900s to protect lives on the beach, and promote water sports.
"Most of the men's kayak team are surf life-savers so they would have the same history," says Flood. "A fair few of the swimmers too."
Flood, who started in the junior surf programme which teaches children surf sense and safety — known as nippers — when she was five, says she has always loved the beach.
"It started out as good fun and progressed through," she says of her sporting career, which has seen her win Australian and world ironwoman titles and allowed her to compete in kayaking's K-2 500m in London.
"Surf is a big part of my life," she says.
On the Olympic honour board in the Manly clubhouse are the names of those who have completed at the Games, including one of the country's most famous swimmers, Andrew 'Boy' Charlton who won the 1,500m gold medal in 1924.
Marc Manion, general manager at Manly Life Saving Club, is "absolutely proud" of continuing the club's tradition with the 2012 Olympians who he says probably makes his club the most represented on the Australian team.
"We are so excited. I mean to have one (Olympian) is a fantastic thing. We love it, it's great," he says.
Manion says surf life-saving centres around participation in water sports, and Manly is one of the largest clubs in the country.
But even he cannot explain why so many Olympic champions, who have won gold medals in rugby, swimming and water polo, have come from the popular beach in Sydney's northern suburbs.
The club's elite coach Trent Herring thinks it may have something to do with Manly's unique positioning on a peninsula, with the ocean on one side and Sydney harbour on the other.
"It's a perfect playground for surf life-saving here. We're blessed (because) we face northeast, so in winter we get a little bit of protection from the southerly so we can train all year round," he explains.
"We've got lovely Sydney harbour behind us, so if the surf is ever too big, or too rough, too dangerous... we've only got to walk a couple of hundred metres, down to the harbour side. We've always got a place to go and train."
Herring says Flood has only been kayaking for two-and-a-half years, but her swimming, surf-skiing, beach running and surfing over the years have given her a skills set adaptable to the Olympic arena.
"I think we're just blessed at the moment to have five Olympics athletes, but Manly has produced a lot of sporting personalities over the last 100 years. And I think Manly's just a special place," he says.
Australian Olympic Committee historian Harry Gordon agrees, saying Manly has made a significant contribution to the Olympics over the years.
He notes the 1924 Paris Games when three men from the then small beach village — 'Boy' Charlton, triple-jumper Nick Winter and diver Dick Eve — came back with gold medals.
"Those three guys all lived within one square mile of each other," he noted.