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