University of Auckland athletes off to France for the pinnacle of sport

Bonne chance to University of Auckland student athletes off to France to compete against the best in the world.

Student Grant Clancy will compete in the K4 500 canoe sprint team.
Student Grant Clancy will compete in the K4 500 canoe sprint event.

A number of University of Auckland students and alumni will be hoping for their best efforts at the 2024 Olympics. 

The University has six students heading to Paris and five alumni. 

After finishing sixth in the K4 500 semi-final race at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup, Bachelor of Commerce student Grant Clancy will participate as part of the New Zealand men’s canoe sprint team. The canoe sprint events run from 6-10 August at the newly built Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium, the first water complex of its kind in Europe.

Amazingly, Grant only began sprint kayaking two and a half years ago.

“I started as I'd heard it would help with my surf life-saving training. My coach, Steve Ferguson, a three-time Olympian in the sport, saw my potential and recommended I get into it as a way to improve my surf-ski paddling, plus there was the possibility of being able to compete at the Olympics.”

Grant has studied part-time for the past two years. “ When I'm not training, I'm doing Uni work or catching up with friends. Everything is based around training, and I've had to be quite organised planning my time.

“Challenges in training are tough, but nothing worth doing comes easy, and I really enjoy paddling. I like seeing how far I can push myself physically and mentally.

“For me it's also about knowing myself and when to switch on and off. But I also get to train and travel the world with my mates, meet new people and visit new places.

“That’s the best thing about the sport - the connections and experiences. Living and training with your teammates creates a cool bond and friendship that goes pretty deep as you've all been pushed to the limits and beyond together and for each other.

“We get to travel the world, seeing and training in some pretty crazy places. We meet people and athletes from all over the world, which can lead to some fun times.

“Experiencing racing on the world stage is also a crazy feeling; the nerves, excitement and energy is hard to find anywhere else, so I definitely understand pressure is a privilege." 

He says Canoe Racing New Zealand is a highly supportive organisation that makes athlete life possible.

“The University of Auckland has also supported me through the High Performance Support Programme. The programme has staff and student athletes working together to make study and sport possible. Things like course planning, assignments and exams while racing overseas and any questions regarding study, the HP programme can do it.”

Grant’s parents and younger brother and sister will be there watching him compete in the K4 500, with races on 6 and 8 August.

“Our goal as a boat is to medal in the K4 500m. And a non-performance goal is taking in what an Olympic games is like... in Paris too! It’ll be a crazy experience.”

Challenges in training are tough, but nothing worth doing comes easy, and I really enjoy paddling. I like seeing how far I can push myself physically and mentally.

Bachelor of Commerce student Grant Clancy, competing in the K4 500 Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland

New Zealand kayaker Lucy Matehaere will compete in the K2 500.
New Zealand kayaker Lucy Matehaere will compete in the K2 500.

Another kayaker carrying the Kiwi flag is Lucy Matehaere (Ngāti Raukawa) who will compete in the K2 500 at the same venue.

Like Grant, and champion kayaker Lisa Carrington, she has also been a surf lifesaver.

“I started kayaking when I was 15 after having competed in surf lifesaving. My parents encouraged me to try kayaking on the back of Lisa Carrington's success at the 2012 Olympics.

“I love being outside on the water and in nature. Kayaking can be difficult and beautiful at the same time which means there's always room for improvement and opportunity to try to find flow.”

She has also played basketball, and her dad is Otago Nuggets head coach Brent Matehaere.

Lucy is studying part-time for a Bachelor of Science, specialising in biomedical science. The part-time load allows her to manage her full-time training load. She is also a research assistant on Project Kāinga, a Māori-led climate change initiative.

“I planned out my degree so I could complete my stage III papers earlier and then leave a mix of stage III and stage I/Gen Ed papers for the Olympic qualifying year and then have only one paper to complete at the start of this year. I'm pleased to say it all worked out nicely.”

She says she’s grateful to the lecturers and course coordinators who have helped her balance her studies with her sporting career, and the University has also offered some financial support. Her biggest supporters, her parents and partner, will be with her in France.

And her goal?

“I want to be able to express my potential in the race. This sounds simple, but a lot of things have to come together to make this happen. Outcome-wise, our goal (with my crewmate Aimee Fisher) would be to make the A final in the K2 500m.”

I love being outside on the water and in nature. Kayaking can be difficult and beautiful at the same time...

Bachelor of Science student Lucy Matehaere, competing in the K2 500 Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland

Sailor Tom Saunders competes in the ILCA 7 event.
Sailor Tom Saunders competes in the ILCA 7 event.

Making up the rest of the University of Auckland student contingent heading to France are:

Tom Saunders
Sailor Tom Saunders will compete in the ILCA 7 event. The 2021 ICA 7 World Champ secured his spot with a fifth in the 2024 World Champs in Adelaide.

Tom says the biggest challenge in sailing is the unpredictability.

“We’re playing against the house, the house being the weather. You can never sail a perfect race. We have to make calculated decisions based on what we can see on the water and what we think might happen five to ten minutes in advance. That, on top of navigating your way around 60 other competitors with similar strategies – these can alter your tactics and decisions become more instinctive.”

Tom began sailing aged nine and says his brother has always been a mentor.

Tom is doing a Bachelor of Commerce and is also part of the University’s High Performance Programme.

“They’ve been more and more supportive with my study and flexibility around deadlines which has allowed me to focus on my sport during certain periods. I wouldn’t be studying without that flexibility, so for that I’m grateful.”

Isaac Houlbrooke
Isaac will compete with the Men’s Hockey Team after the team placed third at the FIH qualifiers in Oman and won the 2024 Hockey Nations Cup. The 22-year-old Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) student represented the New Zealand U21 team at the 2022 Junior Oceania Cup in Canberra, where he won a silver medal. He is one of 16 athletes selected for the Black Sticks men’s team.

Theresa Setefano is part of the Sevens team.
Theresa Setefano is part of the Sevens team.

Theresa Setefano

Theresa Setefano (née Fitzpatrick) will compete for a third time at the Olympics, having won a gold medal with the New Zealand women’s Sevens team in Tokyo. That year, the team beat France in the final 26-12, so returning to that country will be an interesting moment. It seems a world away now, but when the Sevens team returned, they had to sit with their gold medals in MIQ for two weeks before being allowed out to celebrate with friends and family. Theresa also emerged victorious in the 2021 Rugby World Cup (held in 2022 due to Covid-19) with the Black Ferns. Her impactful tries in the semis and final helped secure the title. Adding to her achievements, Theresa triumphed in the World Sevens Series with the Black Fern sevens and earned a nomination for the 2022 World Rugby Women’s 15s Dream Team of the Year. Theresa, who is doing a Bachelor of Health Science, won a Blues Award for Most Meritorious Performance (Sport) and Sportswoman of the Year in 2023.

Sophia Morgan
Science student Sophie is competing in the ICLA 6 sailing class representing Fiji. Read her story here.


Auckland also has a number of alumni Olympians. Sailor William McKenzie (Sportsman of the Year in the 2023 Blues Awards), will compete in the 49er class. Trampolinist Dylan Schmidt was the first Kiwi to go to the Olympics in his sport when he competed in Rio in 2016.  He then won bronze at Tokyo, and will compete again in 2024.

Pole vaulter Imogen Ayris, who won bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham with a fractured foot, becomes a first-time Olympian. Mackenzie Barry is also a first-timer and part of the Football Ferns squad. Golfer Ryan Fox will compete in the men’s strokeplay event, competing as an Olympian for the third time.



Read more about the University's High Performance Support Programme