Lauren Boyle will carry Kiwi swim hopes in Glasgow. Ian Anderson profiles a constant improver.
Laurne Boyle was so delighted with her fourth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics, she couldn't contain her emotions.
Her tearful poolside interview after narrowly missing out on a medal in the women's 800m freestyle final was one of the most abiding moments from New Zealand competitors in London.
But the North Shore athlete wasn't going to be content with a new national record and the pride of pushing the world's best. Then aged 24, she committed herself to getting better yet - something the majority of swimmers appear unable to do as age takes its toll.
Despite turmoil at Swimming New Zealand and a merry-go-round of coaches, the freestyler has got quicker, and will have a major chance at Games glory when she competes in Glasgow next month.
Boyle will contest the 200 metres, 400m and 800m freestyle events, while she's also a possible part of the women's 4x200m freestyle relay team.
Now 26, Boyle won three bronze medals over 400m, 800m and 1500m at last year's world championships in Barcelona to mark herself down as a Commonwealth Games favourite.
"For some reason after London, I just didn't feel like I was finished," Boyle said from her training base in Spain.
"I'm so happy that I carried on after that - it's been a really great experience."
While long-distance swimmers tend to have more durable careers than sprinters, Boyle's continued development is still somewhat of an outlier.
When United States swim sensation Janet Evans set a new world record mark for the women's 800m free in 1987 of eight minutes 22.44 seconds, she was just 16.
England's Rebecca Adlington improved that mark to 8min 14.10sec in 2008 when aged 19, and when Boyle was third at last year's world champs, Katie Ledecky of the US swam a new world's best of 8min 13.86sec at age 16.
Evans retired in 1996 after failing to win a medal at the Atlanta Olympics when aged 25, and had a briefly unsuccessful comeback attempt in 2012. Adlington retired in 2013 aged 23.
It's been a long and steady progression upwards for Boyle, who won a bronze medal as part of the 4x200m freestyle relay team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
At the 2008 Olympics the NZ team was disqualified in the heats while at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, she and her relay team-mates claimed silver before she established herself as an individual standout in London.
At the 2012 Games, Boyle's time of 8min 22.72sec to finish fourth behind Ledecky, Spain's Mireia Belmonte and Adlington was a vast improvement on the national record she already held.
When Boyle was third at last year's world champs, it was in the stunning time of 8min 18.58sec behind Ledecky and Denmark's Lotte Friis.
So how has Boyle got better?
"Well, I had a really good coach [Mark Regan] when I left university for two years before the Olympics," she said.
"I did a lot of work that I hadn't done before and then when he left in January last year I had another really good temporary coach [Bill Sweetenham] who helped me get even better."
While David Lyles is now the new national coach, Boyle headed to Spain recently to train with highly respected French coach Fred Vergnoux.
Her training regime with Vergnoux has been punishing, and when combined with a heavy head cold, meant Boyle was well short of her best at a meet in Monaco this month. She finished behind likely Glasgow rival Karin Prinsloo of South Africa in the 200m and 400m freestyle events when sixth and fifth in the respective races.
Unlike many high-profile Kiwi sports stars, Boyle won't hesitate to speak her mind during interviews and did so when she was asked if she was content with her efforts considering the constraints.
But she did allow that there were restraining factors.
"I've been training with Fred for just over three weeks before that competition in Monaco, and I'd definitely stepped up that volume of training compared to what I'd been doing back home.
"In some parts, the intensity was pretty demanding as well. I've definitely done a lot of training; I've just not seen the results right now but hopefully I can see them later. We'll see."
Boyle, who has been swimming alongside Belmonte at training, explained how Vergnoux likes to push the boundaries.
"We swim for 2 hours in the morning, eat breakfast, do weights for an hour or an hour and a half - depending on how long it takes you to finish the programme.
"Eat lunch, lie down for an hour and a half or two hours, go back to the pool for a half an hour of stretching and dry-land exercises and then swim again for two or 2 hours.
"Then go back to the gym and do either a core circuit or 45 minutes or cardio.
"Then you can eat dinner and go to bed."
Boyle admitted that type of training was only possible overseas.
"It's a bit different when I'm at home, as I don't live at a training centre so I have to drive to and from home, make food there - there's not as much time that the coach can demand that you spend training.
"It's probably not something that anyone can keep up for an entire year either - and probably not healthy."
So does Boyle drift off during the arduous miles she swims in training, staring at the black line along the bottom of the pool?
"I really try and stay engaged with what I'm doing when I'm training and not think about anything else," she said.
"Because I think otherwise it's a little bit of a waste of what I'm doing. At the same time, when the volume goes up really high it's extremely hard to stay engaged the whole time.
"I try to, but it's not always possible."
The University of California Berkeley graduate knows that her dedication to her craft allows her to do little else.
"But I don't really see what I do as a sacrifice," she said.
"Because I get to do things that a lot of other people never experience in their lives.
"I'm so happy that I've had this experience, that I get to race at an elite level - I can really explore my own potential and possibilities and I think that's a pretty awesome thing to do.
"And we get a lot of support to be able to train to be the best athlete we can - that's a fun process."
That has ensured few thoughts about life after swimming, with the 2016 Rio Olympics a likely target.
"I think if I start having those thoughts I should definitely stop.
"It's not that I haven't thought about the rest of my life. I have a business degree so I'm thinking I'll maybe do something along those lines.
"But I'm not really sure, because I haven't experienced what it's like to work in the finance industry or anything like that."
For now, she'll head to Glasgow - and the top-drawer Pan Pacific champs on the Gold Coast in August - knowing she's maximised every opportunity to be at her best, but won't be drawn on likely outcomes. "I think in sports it's always really hard to make predictions - and I think that's the beauty of sport.
"I'm doing everything I can to be at my best and I'm doing stuff that I've never done before. So I don't really know what's going to happen, but I'm giving it everything I can.
"I just have to hope for the best and try and do what I can to achieve it.
"I haven't had a pinnacle event since the world champs - I'm not really sure how much I'll improve; it's not guaranteed."
One thing that won't concern her is nerves. She freely admits to suffering from doubt before major competitions.
"I think if I didn't, I should probably quit swimming.
"When I feel nervous I know that I'm really ready to compete and do well."
AT A GLANCE
The New Zealand aquatics team to attend the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow from July 24 to August 3:
Lauren Boyle: 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay
Glenn Snyders: 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke
Corey Main: 100m backstroke
Matthew Stanley: 400m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay
Mitchell Donaldson: 4x200m freestyle
Dylan-Dunlop Barrett: 4x200m freestyle relay
Samantha Lucie-Smith: 4x200m freestyle relay, 4x100 freestyle relay
Laura Quilter: 4x100m freestyle relay
Ellen Quirke: 4x100m freestyle relay
Emma Robinson: 4x200m freestyle relay
Tash Hind: 4x200m freestyle relay
Ewan Jackson: 4x200m freestyle relay
Steven Kent: 4x200m freestyle relay
Samantha Lee: 4x200m freestyle relay, 4 x 100 freestyle relay
Sophie Pascoe: para SM10 200m individual medley, SB9 100m breaststroke
Nikita Howarth: para S8 100m freestyle
Liam Stone: 1m springboard, 3m springboard, men's synchronised.
Li Feng Yang: 1m springboard, 3m springboard, men's synchronised, 10m platform.
- Sunday Star Times
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