Youngsters clown around on a world stage
Southland's best synchronised swimmers could be performing in front of 10,000 spectators when they represent New Zealand at the world swimming championships in Barcelona next month.
The Aqua Ferns, the national combo team dominated by members of Invercargill's Phoenix club, leave over the weekend for an intensive buildup to the Fina event, which runs from July 19 to August 4.
The team includes nine Southlanders and three swimmers from Auckland, who left family behind and moved to Invercargill to help form a world championship team after the Phoenix club qualified with an outstanding performance at last year's nationals in Invercargill.
Together they have been training up to 30 hours a week for the past six months and working with Academy Southland nutritionist Aimee Burns, as well as balancing schoolwork and fundraising, with each swimmer having to pay $15,000 towards the trip.
Coach Luciana Garcia said her team had shown tremendous commitment over the past six months.
"All of them have been working really hard," Garcia said.
"It's a quite young team to be competing at senior level, so most of them are fulltime students still in secondary school. They had to learn how to manage their time - synchronise their sport with their school. It was a big challenge."
It will be the first time a New Zealand combo team has competed at the world event since 1991.
Caitlin and Kirsten Anderson, who represented New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, will also compete in the duet at the world championships, and Kirsten will represent New Zealand in the solo.
It will be Kirsten's third world championships, and Caitlin's second, but the first for most of the team.
"We are going to the Swiss Open first, so the idea is the young ones will have been at a big international competition before they swim in front of 10,000 people," Garcia said. "I don't know what the reaction of some of them will be once we get to the competition because it's going to be a big deal."
After next week's Swiss Open, most of the team will stay in Zurich to train under coach Michelle Anderson, with Garcia taking the Anderson sisters to an event in Russia. The team will reassemble in Barcelona for an intensive pre-championship camp.
The combo team will be using the "swimming clown" theme which proved so successful at the national championships, but it had been refined greatly since.
"The routine has changed a lot. We've worked on putting more difficulty into the routine, more speed, we changed the swimsuit and we've got 10 swimmers in the water now. The other day I was watching a video from nationals last year, and if you watch it now it's a completely different thing."
Garcia said the team was grateful for the local support it had received, including helping to raise such a large amount of money.
"It was great - from the aqua joggers who we share the pool with every single morning, they came to us and gave us money, they are always there supporting us. It was really neat to see how the community supported this huge thing."
The Southland Times