Swim sensation Lauren Boyle scorched through 2013, claiming three bronze medals at the world championships in Barcelona and striking gold in short course World Cup races.

After a fabulous fourth in the 800m freestyle at the London Olympics last year, this represented a leap forward for Boyle and New Zealand women's swimming on the world stage. Success of this magnitude is rare for any Kiwi swimmer - Boyle's Barcelona haul matched Danyon Loader's record set nearly two decades ago.

The 26-year-old distance freestyler lives in Whenuapai, having returned after flourishing in swimming and business studies at the University of California. She was looking forward to her holiday break - all three days of it - when the Herald caught up with her at the North Shore's Millennium Institute. Apart from that, it is full steam ahead, with her major targets the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Pan Pacific Games on the Gold Coast next year.


Can you sum up your year?


Fantastic. I've had more exposure to different coaches and environments. People know the coaching changes in NZ swimming and there have been major adjustments. I'm proud to have achieved what I did in tough circumstances. A few magazines and articles called the 1500m race at Barcelona the best of the year because the girls who finished one and two were under the previous world record and I was only 2s away.

What drives your competitive spirit? It's not just about beating people. I like constantly trying to improve, and not just my times but elements of my stroke or pieces of races. Being competitive with yourself helps longevity in a sport like swimming, or anything in life I guess.

Your mother describes you as a "fusspot". Is that another word for perfectionist? Possibly. I definitely always do things the best I can, but I can be relaxed as well. I was always pretty good at school. Dad describes me as two dimensional - intellectual and athletic. In 2003, I decided to move schools so I could do the Cambridge international exams, which was pretty weird for a kid that age.

You grew up where? Your parents did what? In Whenuapai. I had a pretty diverse upbringing, played in the paddocks with the animals, had a couple of horses ... did lots of different things. I realised I could be pretty good at swimming at about 15. My dad is a lawyer, my mum a midwife. I really like being back around my family, in the place I grew up.

What is it like as a world-class performer in a sport in which New Zealand struggles to reach that level? It is always hard to be the first person in a while to do well - there are other examples like Rob Waddell in rowing. I definitely have people around me in the team who have the potential to be in finals and on the podium. They are just not there yet. The challenge for me was having to hope that someone from New Zealand could do it.

Childhood hero? Watching Danyon Loader on TV in my grandma's living room, winning his two Olympic gold medals in 1996, was an inspiring moment in my life.

Career highlight? This year's results. My goal at the London Olympics was to medal but coming fourth there wasn't disappointing. It was so amazing to be that good and so close to the best people in the world. But cracking what I wanted to do the following year was important.

Lowlight? In late 2006 we were building up to the world championships and I got really severe chlorine (during training) as the pools had been super-chlorinated ... and the lifeguards said it was fine to get in the pool. I'd never had asthma before but I had a really severe attack and had to go to hospital and get a ventilator. I've had asthma ever since and had to be on steroids and stuff for my lungs ... It was something quite hard to come back from. I've got a good doctor and it's really well controlled now, but in a pool that's not well ventilated I really notice the difference. It's a shame that something like that has had such a long-term detrimental effect.


Any training or racing routines/superstitions? Nothing weird. For racing it's normal for swimmers to get their nails painted a bright colour - our caps, goggles and suits aren't exciting so it's a kind of accessorising, getting cool nails. I get a different colour or pattern each time.

Your specific aims for 2014? I don't share my personal goals with people - it is quite a private thing to decide what you really want to do.

Hobbies? I've got a little vege garden at home. It's nice to get out in the sun since we're always swimming indoors, getting back to nature and eating something from your own soil for dinner. It's like looking after a pet though - you've got to be quite attentive.

What attracts you to people? I kind of choose my friends by a vibe - not concrete things that are said or what we do. I'm usually good at surrounding myself with people I enjoy being around.

How has your success been received here? There is still a lot of focus on rugby and team sports - there is more attention in Olympic years but we compete the other three years as well and do very well. In New Zealand, that is not really acknowledged. It is not the same for women as men ... not the same opportunities in the media or with commercial deals. Women aren't as strong or as fast so the games and races look different, but we're still people getting the same results and doing our country proud.