US star will provide acid test for Lauren Boyle
Lauren Boyle's constant progress will get the acid test over the next few days at the Pan Pacific champs on the Gold Coast.
The Commonwealth Games dual-medallist will be up against United States teen swimming sensation Katie Ledecky at the four-day meet which should give Boyle a pointed guide as to where she ranks in the world, less than two years from the Rio Olympics.
Boyle is in excellent form - soon after winning gold in the women's 400m freestyle, silver in the 800m and fourth in the 200m in Glasgow last month, the 26-year-old set an unofficial short-course world record for the 1500m freestyle in Wellington.
Her time of 15 minutes 22.68 seconds was more than 4sec quicker than Mareia Belmonte Garcia's previous best mark set the previous year, and while there's doubts over the validity of the pool for an official record, it showed Boyle has kicked on since the Games.
But in 17-year-old Ledecky - who could chase five gold medals at the Pan Pacs - she will meet an opponent who is the new benchmark for women's distance freestyle events.
When Boyle won three bronze medals at last year's world champs in Barcelona, Ledecky claimed the gold in the same events - 400m, 800m and 1500 freestyle - and has only got quicker since.
The teen set a world record in the 400 free earlier this month while becoming the first woman to go under 3min 59sec, with her new mark of 3:58.86. She has also shaved almost 3sec off her 800 time (now 8:11:00) and 2.3sec off her 1500 best (now 15:34.23) to give her world long-course records in all three events.
She's also likely to contest the 200m and a relay at the event, and while Boyle is entered in the 200m, she may opt just to pursue the three longer distances.
The Pan Pacs has attracted a top-class field from the US, Australia, Japan and Canada - along with entries from Brazil and South Africa - that could sorely test a New Zealand team that for the most part was off the pace in Glasgow.
Only Boyle and young backstroker Corey Main emerged with top-level reputations enhanced from Glasgow, and Swimming New Zealand high performance director Luis Villanueva said the pressure was on the squad.
"Some of our swimmers excelled in Glasgow led by Lauren Boyle and Corey Main; some were all right and some were below their capabilities," he said.
"Those swimmers are fortunate to have a second chance and they are aware that they need to produce their best this week.
"Next year they will need to lift to another level for the world championships and the year after to improve further again if they wish to be competitive at Rio," he said.
"Other than the Olympics and the World Championships, this is the next highest level of competition that we face."
That standard is reflected by Kiwi swimmers managing only two bronze medals as their total haul from individual events at the Pan Pacs over the last 17 years.
Boyle will enter the event ranked second in the 800 and 1500 free, third in the 400 behind Ledecky and Australia's Bronte Barratt and sixth in the 200 free, which could see a clash between Ledecky and fellow US star Missy Franklin.
Glenn Snyders finished out of the medals against top-drawer breaststroke competition in Glasgow and could fare better on the Gold Coast - he's ranked sixth in the 100m event but just 2sec off top-ranked Yasuhiro Koseki of Japan.
Main breaking into the top 10 in the 100m and 200m back would be a success for the 19-year-old, while Matt Stanley will be out to bounce back from a poor showing in the 400m freestyle in Glasgow.
There'll also be plenty of interest in Michael Phelps at the meet as the most decorated Olympian of all-time continues his comeback path towards a fifth Games at Rio 2016. Phelps is likely to contest the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley.
- Waikato Times
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