Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Swimming: With triplets, two out of three ain't bad

Jay Litherland, right, and Brandon Hatanaka. Photo / David Phill
Jay Litherland, right, and Brandon Hatanaka. Photo / David Phill

The New Zealand swim team for Rio could be bolstered by an unexpected source, after a set of US-domiciled triplets with Kiwi and Japanese parentage opted to chase Olympic qualification for different countries.

It's a story that takes some time to get your head around.

The Litherland brothers - Jay, Mick and Kevin - are competing for Georgia State University in this week's NCAA Swimming Championships. But following the event, they will go their separate ways to attempt to qualify for the Rio Games.

The brothers were born in Japan to a Kiwi father, Andrew, a chef, and a Japanese mother, Chizuko.

Andrew's work then brought the Litherlands to the US when the boys were young, but they gained American citizenship only when they reached high school and began competing in top-level swim meets.

The triplets' triple citizenship puts them in a position where they can select from three countries to compete for an Olympics spot.

However, Jay, who has the most extensive swimming resume of the three, has already represented the US at an international event so cannot compete for another nation. He will trial for the US Olympic team later this year.

Kevin and Mick, who are identical twins (yes, that is possible in a set of triplets), have made the decision to trial for the New Zealand team.

In the past, that would have meant a trip to New Zealand for the trials, but this year a second option was added, mainly to accommodate the needs of US university-based swimmers who were competing at the NCAA Swimming Championships this month.

Swimmers have the choice of competing at the New Zealand trials in Auckland starting tomorrow or at the Canadian trials in Toronto from April 5 to 10.

"It's a remarkable situation for these three brothers," said Swimming New Zealand chief executive Christian Renford.

"They made contact with us a few months ago to enquire about the potential of qualifying for the New Zealand team.

"Jay has already represented the USA at a world championship so can only compete for them now without a stand-down.

"The other two boys could actually trial for the USA, Japan or New Zealand, but have chosen us."

The brothers will need to match or better the Fina A qualifying times at the Toronto event to earn an Olympic nomination.

Based on converted times from last year, Kevin has swum close to those times in the 200m and 400m freestyle and Mick will challenge qualifying times in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley.

Jay, who won gold at the World University Games last year in the 400m individual medley, will take part in the US Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in July.

His personal best of 4m 12.43s is well under the Fina A qualifying time but, given the level of competition for spots in the US, he will not only need to meet the Fina standard but also be ranked in the top two in the US to earn Olympic selection.

Jay told Red and Black, the University of Georgia student newspaper, he had mixed emotions about the idea of Kevin and Mick competing for a different country.

"It's definitely pretty unique, but I'm kind of bummed that I'm not representing New Zealand with them, but I'm really excited for them," he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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