Swimming: Bobbi, 12 to make splash in Rio

By Anendra Singh

No medals and only two finals after a $7.5 million investment. Okay, so the New Zealand swimmers' belly flop at the London Olympics is subject to a damning media report card which rates them 3/10 and with no 2016 prospects for the Rio Olympics.

Don't panic and, please Mr Minister of Sport, refrain from making any hasty decisions on leaving the swimmers high and dry in the build up to the next Games.

Why? Because you probably haven't heard of a wonder kid called Bobbi Gichard, of Napier.

The Tamatea Intermediate pupil is a testimony to the feat of Chinese Olympic gold medallist Ye Shiwen, 16, who raised a few eyebrows in London a fortnight ago when she clocked a world-record time of 4m 28.43s in the 400m women's medley - faster than the men's champion, Ryan Lochte, in the final 100m of freestyle.

She's only 12 and is working on a realistic plan with her Greendale Swimming Club coach Noel Hardgrave-Booth.

Oh, and no, Gichard isn't on any kind of banned swimsuit or performance-enhancing drugs before any seeds of doubt start germinating in fertile minds with all the doping innuendo post-London Games.

"My goal or wish is to go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio," a softly spoken Gichard said last night.

For the record, when she was watching the Olympics on TV with parents Caroline and Dene Gichard and brother Jacques, 14, at home the other day, they couldn't help noticing her 100m backstroke time of 1m 05s was better than the times of the Olympians in the first three heats.

To put her prowess in perspective, Bobbi Gichard - pound for pound, weight for weight - is swimming faster than New Zealand Olympian backstroker Gareth Keane was when he was 12 years old.

Bobbi Gichard holds the 100m national age-group backstroke long course record. She broke the New Zealand 50m and 200m short course records in June.

Not done, the youngster smashed her own 50m backstroke time a fortnight ago at the East Coast Championship.

And last weekend, at the Hawke's Bay-Poverty Bay (HBPB) Winter Championship in Flaxmere, Hastings, she eclipsed her 50m backstroke record for the third time and broke the 100m backstroke time, a record that stood since 2002 under Emily Thomas, of Gisborne.

She also improved, for the second time, her 200m backstroke record before going on to be named the HBPB junior swimmer of the year.

But wait, there's more. Gichard smashed all HBPB backstroke records as well as the 800m freestyle time - a race she had not competed in before.

Not surprisingly, she was named the term two winner of an Asics Sports Award for the Central region.

Open to intermediate pupils (years 7 and 8), the award recognises children who have achieved outstanding results or who have defied the odds to achieve sporting success. The awards are judged at the end of each school term across five regions throughout the country.

Although one winner is usually named each term for each region, the high calibre of entries led to two winners in the Central region. Wellington's Kushla Smith, from Newlands Intermediate, was the other recipient.

Gichard and Smith are now in the running for the Supreme 2012 Asics Sports Award. The winner will follow in the footsteps of such pedigree sportspeople as Black Caps captain Ross Taylor, Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams and former All Black Isaia Toeava.

Said Tamatea principal Roy Sye: "All of us are thrilled to hear about Bobbi's award. She is such a swimming talent.

"We also admire her amazing commitment and dedication that enable her to achieve at such a high national level," Sye said.

Gichard receives a prize pack while the school's sports equipment will also be boosted.

Mother Caroline, who runs a hair salon business, got Bobbi and Jacques into the pool from almost day dot.

"I'm not a confident swimmer so I took them along and they took to the water like ducks," she said, adding Jacques is the NZ breastroke champion for 14-year-olds.

"As a new mum you do the mother/baby thing so I began with Jacques and Bobbi followed.

"You turn your head and you wouldn't know where she'd be. She had no fear," Caroline said of Gichard whose prowess started surfacing at Westshore Primary School in swim sports before her parents took the then 8-year-old to Napier coach Bev Mitchell.

"She started to outgrow Bev's pool. Bobbi could do the length without taking a breath do she went to Greendale where Noel said she had the strength of an ox with her upper body."

But their father comes from a family of accomplished swimmers. Dene, who runs a tiling business, was an HBPB age-group representative before becoming a surf lifeguard with the Waimarama Surf Lifesaving Club.

He likened his daughter's emergence to former backstroke swimmer Carmel Clark, who finished eighth in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Havelock North coach John Beaumont coached the Lower Hutt-born Olympian.

Remarkably, Gichard swam 100m backstroke five seconds outside the one-minute flat New Zealand Olympic qualifying time.

Within six months, she had knocked off a second.

"Noel's confident and she's confident she can make that time in four years," Dene said.

Gichard is under no illusions of how hard it will be to knock off four more seconds but has a steely resolve to gnaw away at the time.

Part of that regime includes waking up at 5am for a training session until 7am and 5.30pm to 7.30pm before and after school on just about every day except Sundays.

While it can become a little tedious looking at the ceiling for endless hours each week, Gichard has good friends at the club who make it worthwhile.

Two of those friends, she said, would go with her to Rio - "water girl" Eva Goodison and "best supporter" Lucy Druzianic.

"We have a secret handshake, it's cool and they are in our school's Swifts netball team," Gichard said not long before standing at the door frame of the open-plan living area of her home with her height etched in, not too far off her father's lanky frame.

She stands at 1.715m, brother Jacques is at 1.765m and Dene 1.9m.

Recently, Gichard received the Life Member's Trophy alongside Olympians as the best age-group swimmer in the country.

Waking up early mornings can be a drag but she's looking forward to Hardgrave-Booth's running and gym workout plan later this year.

"We have never questioned Noel ever. He's the chief pool duck and that's that," Dene said.

"He's old school and gets results from doing the Ks [kilometres] just like Arthur Lydiard did in athletics," he said of the two-time national provincial coach of the year award winner.

The cost of transporting their children to meetings around the country is substantial - up to $15,000 a year.

From December 14-24 Gichard makes her first foray overseas, as part of the Aqua Knights tour to the Victoria State Champs in Melbourne.

"The togs alone cost $500," Dene said but it helps that Blueseventy are her sponsors and supply the Fina-accredited gear.

"Roy Sye and the school have raised money, too, towards the $3000 per swimmer," he said.

Other Greendale swimmers going to the Victoria champs are brother Jacques Gichard, Eva Goodison, Jonathan Burfield-Mill and Bruin Mander.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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