Swimming: Bay stroke of genius

By Anendra Singh

The ages  from 13 to 17 can be an intriguing life span for the emergence of God-given talent.

History, no doubt, justifies that assertion if the achievements of myriad teenagers are anything to go by.

Joan of Arc was inspired at 13 and five years later led France to victory over the English in the Hundred Years War.

Nadia Comaneci, 14, achieved in gymnastics what no Olympian, male or female, had ever before - perfection.

At that age Bobby Fischer became an international chess grandmaster.

Now you can add to that list Bobbi Gichard, the wonder kid from Hawke's Bay, who is jetting off to Dubai to compete in the biennial Fina Junior World Swimming Championship in late August.

Strictly speaking, Gichard shouldn't be at the world juniors because she's only 13 and wouldn't have made the 14 entry mark until November 29.

But then the Napier Girls' High School Year 9 student is an extraordinary individual.

"She's the first 13-year-old to win a gold medal at a New Zealand Open long course meeting," says her Greendale Swimming Club coach, Noel Hardgrave-Booth, after the youngster returned with two gold medals from the West Auckland Swimming Centre in the 50m and 100m backstroke events.

She had to settle for fourth place in the 200m backstroke (2: 17.88) event with club mate Jo Mari Meyer (2:17.59 PB) pipping Gichard for bronze.

In the 100m race, Gichard clocked 1:0263, which was just shy of her national age-group record of 1:0254.

To put her time in perspective, junior world champion Daryna Zevina stopped the clock at 1:00.59 on August 20, 2011, at Lima, Peru.

The Ukranian, who was 16 then, also won gold in the 50m backstroke race in a time of 28.45s and the 200m backstroke (2:10.43).

Gichard clocked 29.51 in the 50m and is 1.715m tall to Zevina's height of 1.81m.

"My goal was to make the podium but I got two golds," Gichard says of the nationals last week.

While disappointed not to make top-three in the 200m backstroke after feeling a little sick, she reconciles it with the knowledge she has done better times in heats.

Gichard has checked out on the website the United Arab Emirates city where she'll be up against junior Olympians.

"It'll be really exciting. It's a rich country.

"They have camels and it's quite hot," says the youngster who finds the swimming stadium "really flash".

The girl who received the Life Member's Trophy, alongside Olympians, as the best age-group swimmer in the country last year isn't one to simply make up numbers.

She returned from Melbourne just before Christmas, as part of the Aqua Knights tour to the Victoria State Champs, after smashing the all-comers' record.

The burning desire to make the 2016 Rio Olympics is still there for the 37th-ranked 100m backstroker in the world.

Remarkably, Gichard's Fina "B" time is up there with the five swimmers off to Barcelona for the senior champs.

"Bobbi is of the same standard as they are, so it's pretty amazing to win titles from up to 20-year-olds," says Hardgrave-Booth, waiting to hear if he'll be her coach to Dubai while her mother, Caroline Gichard, hopes to be team manager.

Before Rio he will have Gichard ready for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games next year in Scotland.

"She trains diligently and doesn't miss any sessions. She's a talented young lady like Jo Mari and a delight to coach."

With a regular diet of overseas meetings on the menu, Gichard needs sponsorship.

"It'll be very costly so I've been talking to people out there.

"I've been telling them this girl's turning into a super star so why not go all the way to Olympics with her," says the man who has coached her since she was 8.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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