Swimming: Weet-Bix girl right out of box

By Shane Hurndell

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Bobbi Gichard with her medals. PHOTO/Paul Taylor
Bobbi Gichard with her medals. PHOTO/Paul Taylor

HAWKE'S Bay swimmer Bobbi Gichard has always been a Weetbix Kid.

A multiple national title winner and age group record breaker over the years, Greendale's Gichard has stuck to her ritual of a huge plate of Weetbix on raceday for longer than she can remember.

In the wake of the Napier Girls' High School 14-year-old's success at last week's national open championships in Auckland - two titles and a second placing all in personal best and national age group record times - the question had to be asked.

What has been added to the Weet-Bix?

The Noel Hardgrave-Booth-coached Gichard, who won the 50m backstroke in 28.98s and the 200m backstroke in 2m 15.52s and finished second to Aucklander Gabrielle Fa'amausili in the 100m backstroke in 1m 01.34s, was quick to point out there had been no diet additions or changes. But since the start of the year she has been doing three gym sessions a week with Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team's fitness trainer Grant Dearns.

"It's been good to have a fresh voice. Grant has introduced me to a lot of new things and I find him very motivating. The fact he has a swimming background also helps," Gichard explained.

Those Auckland performances were phenomenal when one considers Gichard still has five more years of national age group championships, starting in Wellington next week. Those swims also left Gichard with a dilemma.

"I got picked in the New Zealand team for the Pan Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast in August but they clash with the World Youth Olympics in China which I'm likely to qualify for at the national age group championships. Swimming New Zealand along with myself have some input into deciding which of those events I attend ... I'll probably opt for the Youth Olympics as I'll have a chance of at least making a final," Gichard said.

The Jarrod Cunningham Trust and Infinity Foundation-supported Gichard has also been selected for the New Zealand team to compete in next month's Oceania Championships in Auckland. Julian Layton is the other Greendale swimmer in the Aqua Blacks team for this event.

"The more international competition I can get the closer I will get to my major long-term goal ... the Rio Olympics," Gichard said.

"I could not have had the success I've had without the input from coach Noel. He increases the workload to help me achieve my goals ... I sometimes give him the evils but I know the longer and harder sessions help me get the results I want."

Gichard knows she needs to work on increasing her power off the wall during the 100m backstroke turn and polish up some of her underwater work. She will have numerous opportunities to work on this in Wellington where she will race in the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke events as well as the 100 and 50m fly and 400m freestyle.

Gichard's success is rubbing off on her year 10 classmates. One of them, 13-year-old Napier Aquahawk Rugby Adsett, broke a 200m freestyle record for her age group which had stood for 14 years when she recorded a time of 2m 07.11s in Auckland. This placed her 11th in the open division.

Hardgrave-Booth said Gichard exceeded his expectations in Auckland.

"Her 50m backstroke effort was exactly what I was looking for and her 200m backstroke time was better than expected."

He agreed securing more power off the wall in the 100m backstroke turn is Gichard's biggest work-on and this will improve as she becomes more aggressive with age. Hardgrave-Booth will also be happy if she ends up going to the World Youth Olympics rather than the Pan Pacific Championships.

"I think the Youth Olympics will be better for her long-term development. You know me, I've always been a coach who favours step-by-step processes rather than quantum leap ones."

A swimming coach for the past 51 years, the last 24 with the Greendale club, Hardgrave-Booth, 71, has made no secret of the fact he will continue to coach until Gichard achieves her goal of competing at the Rio Olympics.

Three years ago Gichard and her brother Jacques, a former national age group breaststroke champion who is now 15, stated their long-term goal was to be the first Kiwi sister-brother duo to compete at the same Olympics.

"Bobbi is definitely on target and at this stage I would rate Jacques as an outside chance as he has a bit of work to do."

Hardgrave-Booth has made awesome progress with Greendale swimmers over the years.

"Yes, considering we've only got a 25m pool to train in, probably the smallest of all the clubs who compete at national level we do well. It's not about the facilities you've got ... it's what you do with the facilities you've got."

Should at least one of the Gichards make Rio it will be the best endorsement for that statement. And after Bobbi Gichard's achievements at the national opens, only a brave punter would bet against her making the cut.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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