Kiwis to compete in world champs
When Riah Mildenhall isn’t stuck in the library with her head buried in medical books she can be found chasing a frisbee.
But it’s more than just a hobby for the 20-year-old medical student.
Mildenhall is gearing up to compete at the World Under-23 Ultimate Championships with the New Zealand team.
It is the first time a New Zealand ultimate women’s age-group side has been able to compete on the world stage.
Ultimate is a free-spirited sport combining the elements of netball, football, touch rugby and American football.
Teams of seven compete against each other on a rectangular ground to score points by passing discs up the field to teammates standing in defensive end zones.
Games can last up to 110 minutes with players often sprinting nonstop.
Mildenhall says ultimate is unique in its lack of referees at every level of the competition, leaving players on the field to make their own calls when fouls are made.
‘‘Frisbee attracts a certain type of person because its self-refereed so you kind of have to be a certain person or it doesn’t really work. There’s such a fun atmosphere.’’
The game was developed in the 1960s and is now played in more than 80 countries by an estimated seven million people.
The Mt Eden athlete plays for Auckland’s Vixenz Ultimate and was on the under-19 national team for two years.
Mildenhall trains as much as she can to ensure she can keep up with the fierce competition the team will face at the international tournament.
The International Olympic Committee granted provisional recognition to the World Flying Disk Federation on May 31 – a necessary step to have the sport considered for the Olympics.
The World Under-23 tournament will be held in Canada from July 22 to 28 and the team will play a series of games against more than 20 countries.
As a New Zealand under-23 women’s side is yet to compete at a championship tournament there is little for the team to use as a benchmark, Mildenhall says.
‘‘We don’t get to train together as a team very often because we’re based all over the country but when we do get together we make huge improvements every time.
‘‘I’m excited to see how far we can go because based on how we’ve gone so far the improvements should be massive.’’
Auckland Ultimate president Sherif Ibrahim says the organisation’s aim to grow the sport seems to be working. The number of people playing ultimate has doubled in New Zealand in the past decade and about 500 people are now involved, he says.
‘‘It’s extremely exciting. The improvement and skill level of the young players has been impressive.’’
Mr Ibrahim says the national teams will go into the competition considering every game ‘‘winnable’’.
‘‘That’s the right attitude for us. The game is just so appealing because it’s different, really athletic and it has such a strong mentality of sportsmanship.
‘‘It’s not hard to see why more people are starting to play.’’
Ultimate sport: Mt Eden student Riah Mildenhall is preparing to take on the world’s best at the World Under-23 Ultimate Frisbee Championships.