Walsh seeking to repeat medal haul in age-group championships
Ben Walsh has set the bar high.
The Tawa College year 12 pupil will tackle the national age-group swimming championships in Wellington next week, after making a clean sweep of the breaststroke events at the 2012 championships.
Walsh won the 15-year-old 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke a year ago and will attempt to repeat the feat at the next age level.
The list of Wellington swimming records is littered with Walsh's name - he holds more than 20 Wellington records and two national records - but he is not making any rash predictions about his prospects next week.
"I'm feeling pretty good but I will just do my best [at the age-group meeting] and hope for PBs."
Walsh, who turned 16 only this month, has already had a taste of top competition this year, when competing at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney.
He was the youngest competitor in the 200m breaststroke final at the Sydney meeting and was close to his personal best (PB) when finishing seventh in 2:25.02.
He almost matched his best again in the 100m breaststroke and recorded a PB in the 100m butterfly.
It was his second appearance at an international meeting and a step up from the trans-Tasman series in Australia last year.
"It was good experience and I was pretty happy with the way I went," Walsh said. "The level was much higher than I was used to and I was probably the most nervous I've been for a meeting."
Walsh was up against swimmers from Japan, Australia, Canada, China and Brazil in his final in Sydney, as well as fellow Kiwi George Schroder.
Walsh made the New Zealand team for Sydney following impressive performances at the New Zealand short-course championships last October, when he picked up eight medals, including four golds, in his age group and finished third in the open 50m and 100m breaststroke.
"I've always been up there [in my age group] but in the past couple of years I've really stepped up my training and wanted to do well."
Walsh has seven training sessions a week with an early start most mornings. "It has taught me a lot about time management."
Though he will have to step up an age level next week, the timing of his birthday has meant it is a hurdle he has had to cope with each year at the age-group champs. "It worked out for me last year."
He expects Auckland's Bradley Arona to be a tough rival in the 16 year breaststroke finals and as the heats are run on an open basis, Walsh might also come up against the likes of Schroder and Erik Kahr during the meeting. "There will be a couple of pretty quick breaststrokers there."
Walsh will probably restrict the number of swim meetings he attends this year - "year 12 will be a big [school] year for me" - but the 2014 Commonwealth Games loom as a possible long-term target.
New Zealand age-group championships at Kilbirnie, February 26-March 2.
603 entries, spread over 32 individual events, including competitors from Australia, New Caledonia and Tahiti.
There are 124 entries from Auckland, 80 from Wellington and 62 from Canterbury. Age divisions: 12-13, 14, 15, 16 and 17-18.
The Dominion Post