Resurgence possible in NZ swimming, led by Lauren Boyle

Lauren Boyle is at the head of a possible resurgence in New Zealand swimming.
Jason Oxenham

Lauren Boyle is at the head of a possible resurgence in New Zealand swimming.


New Zealand swimming has had a bit of a flogging in recent years, but perhaps a resurgence is looming.

Three reports have been compiled, examining the structure and performance of Swimming New Zealand, and all have been critical to some degree of the national body. High-profile coaches have come and gone, some not very happily.

Even now there's no head coach for the national swimming squad and Luis Villanueva, the high performance director, is departing after little more than two years.

Moss Burmester, the former Commonwealth Games butterfly gold medallist, walked out on the sport a couple of years ago with a real parting shot at its administration.

In the water, results have been poor.

The shining exception has been freestyler Lauren Boyle who, after finishing fourth in the 800m at the 2012 London Olympics, has won three world championships medals in Barcelona in 2013, a Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow last year and set a short-course world record for 1500m.

Amazingly, Boyle is swimming faster than ever despite struggling to find a New Zealand coach she's comfortable working with.

Disabled swimmers Sophie Pascoe and Mary Fisher have achieved exceptional results and brought home buckets of gold medals from Paralympics and world championships.

But apart from the disabled swimmers and Boyle, it's all been rather grim.

There's been no Olympic medal since Danyon Loader's two golds at Atlanta in 1996, no world championship medal or Commonwealth Games gold (except Boyle and Pascoe) since 2006.

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Maybe there are better times ahead.

At the recent New Zealand championships in Auckland, no less than 10 swimmers – eight in the pool, two open water - qualified for the world champs in Kazan, Russia, in August. That's way up on the six who went to the 2013 world champs.

Boyle leads the way, of course, having recorded the world's fastest 1500m time of the year, at the Australian champs in Sydney this month.

She is a genuinely world-class athlete, even if she is surprisingly under-valued in New Zealand.

Besides Boyle, swimmers such as Tauranga's Nathan Capp, Helena Gasson and Bobbi Gichard are emerging as potential champions.

Capp, 22, pared seven seconds of his own national 1500m freestyle record and also set records in winning 800m freestyle and 400m individual medley titles. Even more encouraging, he gives the impression he's just getting started.

Gichard, from Hawke's Bay, is only 15, but pointed to her ability by cleaning up the 100m and 200m backstroke events.

Gasson, from Waikato, had a memorable nationals, winning four titles, including the tough 400m individual medley. She didn't qualify for Kazan, but is one to keep an eye on.

In addition to the team heading for Kazan, a team of eight, headed by Pascoe and Fisher, will attend the world IPC championships, for disabled competitors, in Glasgow in July.

And 19 New Zealand swimmers will attend the world university games in Korea, also in July. That's the largest swimming contingent New Zealand has sent to a world university games.

Despite the problem at national level in coaching and administration, the swimmers may well be turning things around.

Swimming is a particularly tough international sport and things have not been easy at home, so all credit to them.

 - Stuff

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