Olympic swimmers failing to measure up

Olympian Lauren Boyle was a cut above the pack at last night's short-course swimming championships.
Olympian Lauren Boyle was a cut above the pack at last night's short-course swimming championships.

New Zealand's 2012 Olympic swimming programme is staring down the barrel of failure.

While Lauren Boyle grabbed headlines with a steaming 400m freestyle heat, halfway through the London 2012 regatta, the overall Kiwi effort has been anaemic.

No-one was expecting medals.

In fact, a handful of finals would equate with relative success.

However, only two races from a dozen so far have seen New Zealand swimmers post the minimum Olympic expectation of personal-best times.

Despite years of planning, training and preparation, the nation's elite swimmers were going faster in March, at the Olympic trials in Auckland, than over the past four days at the London Games.

Only a few months ago, press releases were being circulated about the London 2012 squad being one of the biggest Olympic swimming squads New Zealand had produced, up one from the 15 who went to Beijing in 2008 and up three from Athens 2004.

For the time being, for both have to race again, Boyle and Glenn Snyders can be largely removed from this halfway house inquiry.

Boyle's display during the heats of the 400m freestyle was world-class as she lopped an eye-opening 2.2 seconds off her own national record. She also qualified fourth fastest for the Olympic final ahead of reigning Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington and world record-holder Federica Pellegrini.

Similarly, chest-beating Snyders looked in great shape after he produced a national record in the 100m breaststroke heats, his first outing of the 2012 Games.

However, even the two success stories have produced unhappy endings, with Boyle finishing eighth in the final after a heavy last 200m - three seconds down on her heat - and Snyders way off his best pace in the semifinal of the 100m breaststroke.

The next best is Wellingtonian Gareth Kean, who, even with a slow swim on Olympic debut, at least made the semifinal of the 100m backstroke.

Fellow Olympic newcomer Matt Stanley, who stormed to the front of the sport four months ago after breaking both of Danyon Loader's 200m and 400m national freestyle records, has been disappointing by his own admission.

Daniel Bell is injured, even requiring cortisone injections just to compete, and cannot be expected to mount any form of challenge, while Melissa Ingram was half a second off her PB in the 100m backstroke, which in a sprint event is a hefty chunk.

Then there is Natalie Wiegersma who was four, and two seconds, respectively, off her best in the 400m and 200m individual medley.

Making Wiegersma's display more frustrating, was that her 200m PB would have placed her in a semifinal comfortably.

In the five days of swimming that remain, better performances, and personal bests at least, are required to salvage an otherwise impotent week - and potentially, government funding. The Olympics are an indicator of a national sports body's entitlement to high performance, taxpayer funding. Swimmers need to aim up.

Fairfax Media