Sports Leaders of the year: Moss Burmester

It was supposed to herald a week of green and gold aquatic domination.

Predictions for the swimming meet at Melbourne's Commonwealth Games revolved round how many golds Australia would win. One tipster believed their women would hoover up the lot.

So when Scottish 200m freestyler Caitlin McClatchey stunned the partisan crowd by winning the meet's first final, non-Aussies sat back and purred. Another Scot, David Carry, then won the 400m freestyle final.

And it got better soon after when Tauranga's Moss Burmester whistled up and down the Games pool four times to set a 200m butterfly Games record 1m 56.64s. It was the quickest swim of his life, done with impeccable timing as it helped set the meet alight.

Burmester had trailed Australian wannabe Travis Nederpelt home in the morning heat by almost 3s, but it transpired he'd been foxing, holding a bit back. A few hours later, Burmester had his revenge, roared on by his squad mates in the stands.

Burmester dominated the race. He was in front from the 50m mark and the rest could not catch him.

The final 25m hurt - "I was just feeling absolutely dead" - but he was not to be denied.

It was New Zealand's first Games gold in the pool since Danyon Loader in Canada 12 years ago.

He received an emotional haka from his teammates after the gold medal had been slipped round his neck. Fourteen Burmester family members and close friends were on hand, and again the next morning, gathered at Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne to greet the quiet-spoken 24-year-old.

The Beijing Olympics beckon in 2008. The stage will be bigger and there are thousands of laps to swim before then.

"I'm confident I can go faster. If I definitely believe there is a lot more there," he said. But irrespective of what happens in China, for a couple of minutes in March, Burmester moved from a contender to a champion.

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