Boyle’s sen­sa­tional tre­ble


Lau­ren Boyle had been swim­ming for New Zealand in­ter­na­tion­ally for seven years be­fore she be­came an overnight sen­sa­tion.

Boyle has just com­pleted a mem­o­rable world cham­pi­onship cam­paign in Barcelona, where she claimed bronze medals in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle events.

Con­sid­er­ing it was 19 years since a New Zealand swim­mer stood on the dais at a world cham­pi­onship, her ef­fort was su­perb. Only three New Zealan­ders – Gary Hur­ring, An­thony Mosse and the in­com­pa­ra­ble Danyon Loader – have won world cham­pi­onship medals.

Boyle’s is the best in­di­vid­ual sports per­for­mance by a New Zealan­der this year.

She rose to national promi­nence in Melbourne in 2006, when she teamed with Helen Nor­folk, Ali­son Fitch and Melissa In­gram to win a bronze medal in the Com­mon­wealth Games 4 x 200m freestyle re­lay.

Nor­folk, Fitch and In­gram be­long to a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of swim­mers. It seems re­mark­able that Boyle is still around and still im­prov­ing.

Boyle, 1.83m (6ft) tall, al­ways looked likely, but re­ally broke through at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics.

She qual­i­fied fourth in the 400m freestyle and fin­ished eighth in the fi­nal.

‘‘I hope I haven’t em­bar­rassed New Zealand by com­ing last,’’ she said af­ter the race.

She seemed any­thing but tri­umphant.

In the 800m a few days later, she swam out­stand­ingly to fin­ish fourth. It’s of­ten said fourth is the cru­elest fin­ish­ing place at the Olympics – all that work and no medal.

But, in fact, Boyle joined a no­table group of New Zealan­ders. The first was 110m hur­dler Harry Wil­son at An­twerp in 1920. Since then such dis­tin­guished com­peti­tors as Bar­bara Ken­dall, Rob Wad­dell and Rod Dixon have fin­ished fourth at the Olympics.

Dis­tance run­ner Billy Savi­dan did so twice in 1932, and shot put­ter Val Young was fifth, fourth and fourth in suc­ces­sive Olympics.

In 1968 the New Zealand rowing eight, pre- race favourites, were fourth at Mex­ico City. They made no mis­take four years later and won the gold medal in Mu­nich in im­pe­ri­ous fash­ion. So Boyle fol­lowed in some fa­mous foot­steps.

Her af­ter-race com­ments con­trasted to those a few days ear­lier.

‘‘I’m so proud of my­self. I never thought I could come fourth in an Olympic fi­nal. I feel I’m at the be­gin­ning of what I can do in swim­ming, and want to swim for at least two more years.’’

The Auck­lan­der had pre­vi­ously seemed to me to be slightly plagued by doubt. Mak­ing two Olympic fi­nals changed her out­look.

She went on to win a world short-course ti­tle in Is­tan­bul on her 25th birth­day in De­cem­ber, and has now set the pool alight in Barcelona. Boyle is the New Zealand freestyle record- holder in ev­ery dis­tance from 200m to 1500m.

It’s ask­ing a lot for her to hang on un­til the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Swim­ming is de­mand­ing phys­i­cally and the fi­nan­cial re­wards are slight.

But it would be great if she did stick around, be­cause she’s im­prov­ing ex­po­nen­tially.

Per­haps her suc­cesses will pro­vide the vi­tal spur. A world short­course ti­tle, three world cham­pi­onship medals and a medal haul at next year’s Glas­gow Com­mon­wealth Games might be enough to keep her swim­ming right through to Rio. Let’s hope so. Boyle looms as the cen­tral fig­ure in a new wave of cham­pion New Zealand swim­mers.

Photo: GETTY

Swim queen: Lau­ren Boyle on the start­ing blocks at the world champs in Barcelona.

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