It's official. Emma Robinson is one of New Zealand's brightest swimming hopes.
The Wellington East Girls' College pupil was this week named as one of the three finalists for the emerging swimmer of the year award.
The other finalists are the Canterbury pair Sophia Batchelor and Matthew Hutchins, who will join Robinson at the New Zealand age group championships in Wellington next week.
The emerging swimmer prize, which will be presented at the Swimming New Zealand awards dinner in Auckland next month, is open to all swimmers who were under-19 at December 31.
The nomination will give 17-year-old Robinson a confidence boost as she approaches one of the most important periods of the swimming season.
There are just three weeks between the national age group meeting, which begins on Tuesday, and the New Zealand open championships in Auckland.
The two championships take on added significance in an Olympic year and are qualifying meets for several overseas opportunities, including the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii in August.
Robinson had a taste of international competition at the Youth Commonwealth Games on the Isle of Man last year, and making the Junior Pan Pacific team is her main goal this year.
She has already gone under the qualifying time for Hawaii in the 400m freestyle but needs to repeat the performance at either the age groups or the open.
Because the two meetings are so close together, Robinson expects to peak for the open but will not turn down the opportunity to qualify through the age group championships.
The age group meeting will be a testing one for the leading swimmers, as they will continue to put in the mileage in preparation for the national open.
Robinson will maintain her early-morning training sessions before tackling the age group heats in the morning, with the finals sessions beginning at 6pm.
Robinson, who is competing in the 17-and-18-year-old division, also has a hard act to follow, after winning five titles last year.
"But I'm looking forward to the challenge."
She has also been buoyed by recording personal bests in three events – 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle – at the New South Wales open championships in Sydney this month.
Robinson recorded 4:20.02 for the 400m, inside the Pan Pacific qualifying time of 4:20.34 and reduced her 800m time to 8:53.46, in sight of the Pan Pacific target time of 8:48.77. She also broke a minute for the 100m freestyle for the first time – "though at my age I should be a bit faster."
Robinson is the highest ranked swimmer in her division for the 400m and 800m freestyle at the national age groups and prominent in the 200m seedings.
She has been swimming "for as long as I can remember", partly because her parents, Martin and Jan, were heavily involved in surf life saving.
However Robinson did not begin competitive swimming till she was 12. "I was 15 before I really started performing but I've got a lot better in the last two or three years."
She has also won national titles in surf life-saving but will be concentrating on the pool this year. "Swimming takes over your life so much."
For much of the year, Robinson has 10 swimming sessions and two gym sessions a week.
Her long-term goal is the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, a target that her coach Gary Hurring regards as realistic.
"Emma is someone we are targeting for Rio," said Hurring, who coaches the Wellington regional high performance centre squad.
"She's going very well. She's a very focused and determined young woman and an extremely hard worker. She's very diligent with her training.
"She had a bit of time off over summer but wound it back quickly and is exactly where we want her to be."
Wellington schools will provide a number of prominent contenders for the age group championships.
Robinson's Wellington East schoolmate Ali Clareburt is highly ranked in the 17-18 400m individual medley and 200m backstroke but has just been diagnosed with a cracked rib, an injury she has been carrying for some time.
Emily McGill (Chilton Saint James) is another who should be prominent in the senior division, particularly in breaststroke, and Hutt Valley High School year 10 pupil Alex Pampalone, who excels at freestyle and backstroke, will have a raft of medal prospects in the 14-year-old age group.
Tawa College will have a good hand in the boys events through Nick Gillum, Kyle Barnes, Callum Sinclair, Ben Walsh and Sean Kemp.
Barnes, 17, had his confidence boosted when picking up five titles at the Wellington championships last month, while Walsh won nine gold medals at the meeting and set a New Zealand record for the 14-years 200m breaststroke. However, Walsh has since turned 15 and will be up a division next week.
New Zealand age group championships at Wellington regional aquatic centre at Kilbirnie, March 6 till 10.658 entrants, spread over 32 individual events, including 141 swimmers from Auckland and 85 from Wellington.
Age divisions: 12-13, 14, 15, 16 and 17-18.
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