Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Swimming: Last-gasp chance to make Olympics

Bobbi Gichard. Photo / Simon Watts
Bobbi Gichard. Photo / Simon Watts

Just three entrants in next week's national swimming championships have previously gone under the Olympic qualifying standard for this year's Rio Games, raising the prospect of Swimming New Zealand sending its smallest team to an Olympics in 24 years.

The five-day meet at the National Aquatic Centre on Auckland's North Shore will double as Olympic trials, with competitors required to go under the Fina 'A' qualifying time during the event to earn selection for Rio.

But the only swimmers who have entry times faster than the mark set by the international governing body are Lauren Boyle, who captured two silver medals at last year's world championships, Wellington freestyler Emma Robinson, and US-based breaststroker Glenn Snyders.

Other aspiring Olympians will have to do significant personal bests, and in some cases set national records, if they are to make the grade for the Rio Games.

The New Zealand Open was originally set down as the only meet in which the athletes can qualify, but Swimming NZ last month amended its criteria for nomination, adding the Canadian Olympic trials as a selection event. The move was made to accommodate Kiwi swimmers based in the US College system, with the NZ Open clashing with the NCAA championships in the United States.

However, those chasing Olympic selection can contest only one meet, meaning those who fail to make the grade in Auckland can't then head to Canada for a second crack.

Thirteen Kiwi swimmers will compete in the Toronto meet, with backstroker Corey Main (Florida) and long-distance freestyler Matt Hutchins (Wisconsin) considered the best chances of qualifying. Stanford's Sam Perry has also been in strong form of late in the freestyle sprint events.

Despite being based in the US with the University of Southern California, Snyders opted to return home to contest the trials here. The two-time Olympian is focusing his efforts on the 100m breaststroke event, in which his personal best sits about half a second under the Olympic qualifying time.

Snyders said the pressure of having to reproduce his best in a one-off event has him on edge heading into this week.

"Experience always helps. It's still pretty nerve-wracking to go into Olympic trials to see what happens. It's whatever happens on the day and you only get this one shot at it," he said.

With Rio likely to be Snyders' last Olympic campaign, the former North Shore-based swimmer accepts if he fails to qualify next week, it could be the end of his career.

"If everything doesn't work out it's hard to wait another four years so I guess I'll just have to reassess when the time comes and figure out if I still want to keep swimming. I'll be 29 about a week after trials, so it is pretty old in swimming," said Snyders.

But had it not been his shift to the States following the London Olympics, where he failed to make it past semifinals in his favoured 100m event after producing a blistering time in his heat, Snyders believes he would have hung up his goggles well before now.

With most of New Zealand's top swimming talent based overseas, the top local hopes are impressive Auckland teens Bobbi Gichard and Gabrielle Fa'amausili. The 16-year-old pair are both within half a second of the qualifying time in the 100m backstroke, while Gichard has also swum within a whisker of the 200m backstroke time. Fa'amausili holds the junior world record in the 50m backstroke - a non-Olympic event.

- NZ Herald

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