Big team of NZ swimming hopefuls in London

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2012
Lauren Boyle
Peter Meecham/Fairfax Media
BEST HOPE: Lauren Boyle headlines the New Zealand swimming team for the London Olympics.

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Simon Plumb looks at who to watch among the Kiwi swimmers at the Games.

Swimming has endured lean living since Danyon Loader's dual gold at the 1996 Atlanta games - and once again, the Olympic podium is a lofty expectation for New Zealand at London 2012.

Unlike Beijing 2008, there's not even anyone one in the Moss Burmester mould. No one in a position to declare that they're going to an Olympic Games with the strict intention, not just hope, of bringing home a medal.

But, there are positives to be found in a sport which continues to produce top-eight talent.

The next, and always most challenging step, is turning dark horses into genuine medal contenders and that's unlikely to happen until the next Olympic cycle.

One positive is that the sheer number of New Zealand swimmers hitting Olympic qualifying times continues to grow. The London 2012 squad is up one from the 15 who went to Beijing in 2008, and up three from Athens 2004.

In fact, it's one of its biggest Olympic swimming squads New Zealand has ever produced, and includes seven athletes who will compete as individuals.

Qualified for three freestyle events (200m, 400m and 800m) New Zealand's swimmer of the year Lauren Boyle should lead the Kiwi charge.

Four years since her Olympic debut in Beijing and two years since helping the women's 4x200m freestyle relay team to Commonwealth Games bronze in Delhi, the 24-year-old is considerably more experienced and ready to make her name as an individual.

Under American Olympic coach Teri McKeever during her time on a prestigious University of California, Berkeley scholarship Boyle has flourished over the last three of years, becoming a genuine world-class talent.

In her own words, Boyle credits that progression to McKeever, but also a pair of iconic American training partners in Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin who carry a dozen Olympic medals between them. But like all of New Zealand's top crop, it's a case of building towards Brazil 2016, though Boyle is a good chance of making the final of both the 800m and 400m.

Based on times from 2008 Beijing finals, Boyles personal best would have placed her fifth in the 800m and seventh in the 400m. The men's field should be led by Glenn Snyders who, like Boyle, represents a good shot at two finals in the 100m and 200m breaststroke.

The 25-year-old scooped four medals, including three gold, in last year's European leg of the swimming World Cup and he also performed well at the World University Games where he scored two gold, one silver and a bronze.

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Commonwealth Games silver medallist Gareth Kean will find the going much, much tougher on a truly world-class stage, but is also one to watch in the 100m and 200m backstroke.

Kean's 200m personal best is more than four seconds off the Olympic and world record set by world swimming's man of the moment Ryan Lochte four years ago, but only a few tenths of a second from a time which would have put him in a Beijing final.

Beyond that there's Matamata freestyle specialist Matt Stanley, who became a household name this year by breaking both of Loader's national records in the 200m and 400m freestyle in March.

Just in his 20s, Stanley may even be targeting the 2020 Olympics beyond Brazil, and will probably need a five second personal best to reach a final in events which include Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Punters who enjoy educated flutters on long odds would also be well-advised to watch out for a pair of Kiwi relay teams in the men's 4x100m medley relay and the women's 4x200m freestyle.

The 2012 New Zealand Olympic swim team:

Daniel Bell (North Shore) 100m backstroke; Lauren Boyle (North Shore) 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay; Amaka Gessler (Motueka) 4x200m freestyle relay; Natasha Hind (Capital) 4x200m freestyle relay; Melissa Ingram (North Shore) 200m backstroke; Gareth Kean (Capital) 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke; Samantha Lucie-Smith (Capital) 4x200m freestyle relay; Penelope Marshall (North Shore) 4x200m freestyle relay; Hayley Palmer (North Shore) 50m freestyle; Glenn Snyders (North Shore) 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke; Matthew Stanley (Matamata) 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle; Natalie Wiegersma (Waverley) 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley. 4 x 200m men's freestyle relay:Matthew Stanley, Steven Kent, Dylan Dunlop-Barrett, Andrew McMillan. 4 x 100 women's freestyle relay: Hayley Palmer, Amaka Gessler, Penelope Marshall, Natasha Hind. 4 x 100 men's medley relay: Gareth Kean (Back), Glenn Snyders (Breast), Daniel Bell (Fly), Carl O'Donnell (Free).

- Stuff

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