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Swimming: Pressure sits squarely on Lauren Boyle

Lauren Boyle. Photo / Getty
Lauren Boyle. Photo / Getty

Four years on and it's Groundhog Day for Swimming New Zealand.

The pressure sits squarely with Lauren Boyle to break New Zealand's 20-year Olympic swimming medal drought, just as it did in London.

The sport has received $5.6 million across the Games cycle, including a budgeted $1.3 million this year in high performance taxpayer funding. However, if the medal prospects are objectively assessed at present, only Boyle in the 800m and possibly 400m is a podium contender.

The last medals came when Danyon Loader took gold in the 200m and 400m freestyle at Atlanta.

The country has earned seven medals in 104 years of competition - three gold, one silver and three bronze - stretching to Malcolm Champion's triumph with the 4 x 200m Australasian freestyle relay team at Stockholm in 1912.

How Boyle handles this responsibility from her Queensland base is anybody's guess, but she's coped admirably before and there is no doubt she can do so again by applying her customary serenity.

Boyle led the way in London, finishing fourth in the 800m freestyle and making the 400m freestyle final.

For anyone who's seen her 800m post-race interview, it is one of New Zealand sport's more emotional scenes.

She has since summed up the moment: "Every time I blew out the candles on a birthday cake I dreamed of an Olympic medal. I wish I had had more faith.

"It's kind of hard to come fourth. It's kind of a crappy position. It can really eat away at you if you're not careful."

The 28-year-old has advanced her cause in the interim, despite competing against one of the great swimmers of any generation, 19-year-old American Katie Ledecky.

Boyle claimed silver in the 800m and 1500m freestyle at the 2015 world championships and bronze in the 400m, 800m and 1500m at the 2013 edition. Her five world championship medals are half of New Zealand's overall haul since the world championships began in 1973.

She leads an eight-person Kiwi team to Rio.

Boyle and breaststroker Glenn Snyders will attend their third Games, joining Dean Kent and Helen Norfolk as the other Kiwi swimmers to achieve the feat.

In addition to Boyle and Snyders, freestyler Matt Stanley also competed in London. Bradlee Ashby, Helena Gasson, Matt Hutchins, Corey Main and Emma Robinson have earned Olympic debuts.

Meanwhile, Boyle's world championship medals in Barcelona (2013) and Kazan (2015) have been a lifeline for Swimming New Zealand.

Leading to Barcelona, Boyle had to search deep after her then-coach Mark Regan's contract was not renewed that January. She returned to the pool mentally stronger and committed to making the podium.

SNZ chief executive Christian Renford acknowledged Boyle's value at the time.

"Lauren is vital, the jewel in the crown," he said. "She's a wonderful ambassador for our sport and if we continue to produce people like her we will be in good stead. But it's unfair to rely solely on her.

"We need to show it's not good enough to simply qualify for the Olympic Games or world championships. You have to perform on that world stage. [A lack of] money also can't be used an excuse."

Almost three years on and SNZ needs to find those successors. Yesterday Renford was ominously hinting Tokyo 2020 was the wider goal.

"There is an encouraging mix of experienced Olympians, some who have been in our international programme and some exciting younger swimmers who are part of our 2020 targeted group which shows our development programme."

Surely it's time someone else joined Boyle in seizing the day in Rio?

Her seven teammates have never had a better chance to prove they can kick on out of her wake.

New Zealand's Rio swim team

Bradlee Ashby, 200m individual medley
Lauren Boyle, 400m/800m freestyle
Helena Glasson, 100m butterfly
Matt Hutchins, 400m freestyle
Corey Main, 100m backstroke
Emma Robinson, 800m freestyle
Glenn Snyders, 100m breaststroke
Matt Stanley, 200m/400m freestyle

- NZ Herald

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