Sport, best of the year: 6 Hannah McLean

By David Leggat

Not since Danyon Loader's stunning Atlanta Olympic double in 1996 has New Zealand had something to crow about in the pool at big events.

But the 24-year-old Auckland backstroker is doing her level best to lead a renaissance in the water.

McLean made two finals at this year's world championships in Montreal.

She qualified third fastest for the 100m in 1m 01.14s, behind American star Natalie Coughlin and German Antje Buschschulte.

In the final she was 0.02s slower and with the three placegetters all clocking lower than 1m 01s, McLean finished fifth.

She was also in the 50m final, finishing seventh - one spot higher than her semifinal qualifying position - in 28.90s.

To give an idea how close the race was, third to seventh places were covered by 0.18s.

McLean was ninth-fastest qualifier in the 200m backstroke, missing a third final by a mere 0.02s.

Plenty to be happy about then, and provided a niggly ankle injury picked up at a World Cup meet in Sydney a couple of weeks ago clears up, McLean is superbly positioned for medals at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in March.

In terms of Commonwealth rankings, McLean is third over 50m, behind Aussies Giaan Rooney and Sophie Edington, joint first with Rooney at 100m and fourth over 200m behind three Britons.

Take away the ankle worry and she's in good shape, too, in both mind and body.

"I'm feeling really good, the fittest and strongest I've ever felt and I'm really keen to race."

Her next competitive swimming will be the Australian trials in Melbourne next month.

There's no point counting chickens just yet, but equally there's no denying McLean will be among the leading New Zealand contenders for Games medals.

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