Hawke's Bay swimmers Emma Godwin and Julian Layton are regarded as serious prospects for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Heretaunga Sundevils pair, who are coached by 2008 Olympian Willie Benson, proved why when they won three national titles and two other medals at the recent New Zealand Open Championships in Auckland. Layton, 24, who won the 200 and 100m breaststroke titles, also captured the Harold Pettit Trophy for Swimmer of the Meet with the most International Swimming Federation points, 892.
"It's the first time I've won the Harold Pettit. It was my best New Zealand Opens and a good step in the right direction towards Tokyo," Layton said from his Sunshine Coast base last night.
"My 200m time [2m11.51s] would have qualified me for the Rio Olympics and last year's world championships. The qualifying time for Tokyo will be around the 2m10.06s mark so I'm not far off it," Layton said.
His winning 100m time was 1m02.93s, The third-year Sundevil, who represented the Greendale club during his days at Napier Boys' High School, also finished fourth in the 200m individual medley and the 50m breaststroke.
Since December 2012 Layton has been Australia-based but returns to New Zealand for national meets. These days he represents the Kawana Aquatics club.
"It's good to be training over here with other top breaststrokers. The lifestyle is pretty good too," added Layton who works in a coffee shop when he isn't training.
Godwin, 21, won the 200m backstroke title with a time of 2m15.32s. She also won silver in the 100m backstroke in 1m02s and bronze in the 50m backstroke.
"I'm stoked. That 200m backstroke time was four years in the making and those champs were the highlight of my swimming career," Godwin explained.
"I was hoping to go a bit faster in the 200. While I didn't quite pull it off I was happy with the result."
A competitive swimmer since she was 10, Godwin set qualifying for an Olympic Games as a goal in 2015. That was her first year out of Iona College and she was training with the North Shore club in Auckland while studying sport and recreation at North Harbour's Massey University campus.
"I'm doing my final year of study by distance while fitting my training sessions around some part-time personal trainer work at Beast Studio in Napier," Godwin explained.
Her next major meet will be the national short course champs in Auckland in October where she hopes to qualify for the world championships in China in December. Godwin's training schedule includes nine pool sessions and two gym sessions each week along with several yoga sessions.
"Flexibility and stroke rate and pacing are my biggest work-ons. As long as I keep the drive I've got a good chance of qualifying for Tokyo."
Godwin said she was thrilled to have a motivated coach like Benson.
"I'm lucky to have a coach who has been there and done that. Willie has got the experience behind the knowledge."
Coach Benson is rapt with the progress Layton and Godwin are making.
"Obviously the 2020 Olympics is their big goal. The way they are tracking it looks pretty promising. But you can only race what your competition is," Benson said.
"It's great for the region to have two New Zealand titleholders. One is obviously based here and the other has ties here. I remember back in my day you had to go away out of the region to enhance your chances of New Zealand selection once you got to a certain level," Benson recalled.
Two other Sundevils, Josh Greening and Nick Macky, also competed at the New Zealand Open Champs.
"Emma and Julian were the experienced pair in the team. Josh and Nick are in the experience-gathering phase," Benson added.