The Toyota Whanganui Swim Club aims to build substantially on recent successes in the pool after hiring an international coach with an impressive record.

Richard Gheel swam for his Northern Ireland homeland at three Commonwealth Games (1986, 1990 and 1994) and Ireland at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. He also held the 200m and 100m backstroke record for Northern Ireland for 30 years.

His best performance at the Commonwealth Games was ninth at Auckland in 1990, just missing the final by millimetres.

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He has coached for more than 30 years and has previously coached in Whakatāne, where he fell in love with New Zealand.

"I coached in Whakatāne from January 2016 to June 2018, beginning with a membership of around 40 or 50 swimmers," Gheel recalled.

"That city was very strong in surf lifesaving, but we managed to grow the club to about 100 members when I left. Surf lifesavers crossed over to pool swimming once they began to see the results we were posting. It was not a deliberate attempt to poach surf lifesavers, it was just something that happened really.

"I fell in love with New Zealand during my time in Whakatāne and I'm glad to be back in the country. My wife Aine and son Bradan are coming over early next year."

From Omagh in the west of Northern Ireland, Gheel returned to his homeland to coach the City of Belfast club and was highly successful, with a number of medal performances including gold at the recent Irish Swimming Champs in the last week of July.

He describes himself as a swimmer who was not the most talented and got to where he did through hard work and commitment.

It is that same hard work and commitment philosophy he passes onto his students.

"It's all about self belief, confidence and skills. In fact, it's skills over speed all the time," Gheel said.

Photo / Bevan Conley
Photo / Bevan Conley

"They say practice makes perfect, but really it's perfect practice makes perfect. I like to start each season always focusing on slow swimming and skills and build from there."

Gheel began his new job on Monday and will gain a clearer picture of where some of his swimmers are at as he prepares a number for the New Zealand Short Course Championships in Auckland at the beginning of October.

Whanganui Swim Club chairman Neil Forlong said he and the club were looking forward to a long and successful partnership with Gheel.

"Fortunately for us we have secured Richard's services and his first assignment will be preparing the team of Ethan Bryers, Cayden Earles, Cheyenne Nightingale and Georgia Abraham for the New Zealand Short Course Championships in Auckland," Forlong said.

"Our club cannot thank enough the group of coaches that have kept the swimmers in the water with some fantastic programmes over the past three or fou months, and the results achieved at meets have been superb and a credit to the swimmers and coaches.

"Now Richard has arrived the club will arrange a function for parents and swimmers to meet him, and I know he is incredibly excited to get to Whanganui to coach our fantastic team."