Swimming: Palmer surges ahead

By Dana Johannsen

A year ago Auckland teenager Hayley Palmer did not even feature on New Zealand swimming's landscape.

Now, partly because of a change in circumstance but mostly because of the phenomenal improvement the 18-year-old has made, Palmer has forced her way in to the frame for this year's Olympics.

Her rapid arrival on the scene has surprised even Palmer herself.

"I just couldn't even comprehend before this year that I would have so much improvement in such a short space of time," she said.

The New Zealand-born swimmer moved back to Auckland with her family early last year having spent most of her formative years in the UK.

After moving to Cheltenham, England at the age of three, Palmer took up competitive swimming at a young age but it has only just started to make an impact in the past six months since returning to New Zealand.

Jan Cameron, head of North Shore swim club, a stable for the country's elite swimmers, described Palmer's ability as "average" when she first joined her programme, but said the young freestyler has come on in leaps and bounds.

Palmer was one of the stand-outs at the national short course championships in Waitakere late last year, qualifying for the world short course champs in Manchester in April with a record-breaking performance in the 100m freestyle.

Her time of 54.36s easily makes the Herne Bay teen the top female freestyle sprinter in the country.

Palmer has difficulty putting her finger on what exactly is behind her remarkable improvement.

She said her coach at North Shore Scott Talbot-Cameron, son of Jan Cameron and legendary Australian coach Don Talbot, has done wonders.

"I'm not exactly sure what he's done with me specifically but it's working.

"Scott is really on to it in terms of mixing the different sort of sessions we're doing. He'll do anaerobic power one day and aerobic capacity the next day and he's constantly working the different systems and maintaining everything."

Palmer will need to continue to show the same sort of rapid improvement if she is to make the grade for Beijing.

New Zealand Swimming's strict qualifying standards require swimmers to meet the Fina A times. With a long course personal best of just over 57s in the 100m freestyle, Palmer still needs to shave off about two seconds to qualify in the individual event for the Olympics.

But the Beijing seed was only planted in Palmer's mind in the middle of last year - her primary goal has always been the London Olympics in 2012.

"Ever since London got awarded the Games for 2012 I thought it would be amazing to go there and that was the only one in my mind, that was the one that I really wanted to go to and it still is," she said.

"It wasn't until after nationals this year that I thought Beijing could really be a possibility, I could really have a shot. But London is my primary focus so everything between now and then is just a lead-up to getting on the podium there."

To have such longevity in the sport, Jan Cameron believes Palmer needs to add more events to her repertoire.

"It's important to think of a long- term development of a swimmer," she said.

To help maintain her interest in the sport, Palmer eventually wants to add the 200m freestyle to her programme.

She said training in the pool for around four hours a day, every day, can take its toll.

"It gets tedious, it really does - there's only so much you can do without wanting to rip your hair out.

"Doing something like the 200 you've got to train differently for it, you've got to develop your aerobic systems very differently.

"At the moment, my 100 freestyle is my main event but I'd like to be able to be very, very competitive in the 200 as well by 2012. To be able to medal in both events in London would be absolutely fantastic."

For now though with only 12 weeks before the Olympic trials for Beijing and the world short course championships two weeks later, Palmer can ill-afford to get too far ahead of herself.

Hayley Palmer

Born: May 8, 1989
Lives: Herne Bay, Auckland
Club: North Shore
Events: 50m, 100m freestyle

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