The 2020 Summer Olympics were finally held in Tokyo following a year’s postponement due to Covid-19. With swimming always a well favoured event at the Olympics, this year was no different. As a country, New Zealand had reigning Junior World Champion Erika Fairweather, as well as World Championships Bronze Medalist Lewis Clareburt on their roster. We knew that these two were bound to have a great competition. Joining these two on our team were: Zac Reid, Eve Thomas, Hayley McIntosh and Carina Doyle. Setting off from Aotearoa to the “Land of the Rising Sun”, they were later joined by the seventh and final member on the Team NZ Roster, Ali Galyer. The Staff that accompanied the team to Tokyo were: Head Coach Lars Humer, Coach Sue Southgate, Coach Gary Hollywood, Team Leader Gary Francis and Team Manager Amanda White.
Saturday 24th July. Day One of Swimming at Tokyo 2020. New Zealand had Lewis Clareburt of Wellington up to start the country’s campaign. Lewis finished second overall in the heats of the Men’s 400 Individual Medley, making it through to the finals. He broke his own New Zealand Record. On top of this, he also broke an Oceania Record, and a Commonwealth Record - with a new personal best of 4:09.49 seconds. Slightly ahead of Lewis and taking the Oceania and Commonwealth record for himself shortly after, was Australia’s Brendon Smith. Having qualified for the finals, Lewis found himself swimming again in the following session. He finished the final in 4:11.22 seconds, placing him 7th in the world - a massive effort from Clareburt.
Following an exceptional first day of swimming, we then saw another key moment through our youngest swimmer, Erika Fairweather in the Women’s 400m Freestyle Heats. Erika swam brilliantly to break her first Open New Zealand record, previously held by Olympian Lauren Boyle. Qualifying for the final, Fairweather then went on to place 8th - a fantastic way to make your Olympic Debut.
Next up on our key moments is yet again Erika Fairweather. After her impressive showout in her first Olympic Final in the Women’s 400m Freestyle, it was time for her to take on the 200m Freestyle. It is in this race where she won her World Junior title in 2019. Erika progressed through to the semifinals with a 17-years NZ age group record, swimming a new personal best time of 1:57.26. In the semi-finals she placed 16th overall - a superb effort! Also racing in the same session (and the same heat) were our two long-distance swimmers: Hayley McIntosh and Eve Thomas. It was a history-making event as the Women’s 1500m Freestyle is a race that has never been part of the schedule at an Olympic Games before. Eve finished 26th overall, with a time of 16:29.66 and Hayley finished 31st, with a time of 16:44.43.
On Tuesday 27th July, Zac Reid stepped up again to race his second, and final, race of Tokyo 2020. In the Men’s 800m Freestyle, Zac won his heat in record-breaking fashion. In a time of 7:53.06, Zac broke his own New Zealand Open Record, previously standing at 7:53.50. He placed 18th in this event.
In the next session, we were able to see our wāhine toa in action in the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay. Our team consisted of: Carina Doyle, Ali Galyer, Erika Fairweather and Eve Thomas. Qualifying for this event at the 2019 World Championships held in Gwangju, South Korea, we were eagerly awaiting to see how our relay would do against some of the top teams in the world. Our ladies swam valiantly to finish 12th overall in a time of 8:06.16. Pictured below are Carina and Ali just after their relay swims.
Rounding off our key moments for Tokyo 2020 is Lewis Clareburt. If he wasn’t already, he has definitely become a household name around Aotearoa. He was New Zealand’s first, and final, swimmer to compete. This time, racing in the Men’s 200m Individual Medley, there were some huge names he was up against. Fearlessly, Lewis made it through both the heats AND semifinals, to progress to the finals of 200m IM. A race that had been dominated by one great for more than a decade, it was time to see what our home-grown hero could do. In the heats, Lewis broke a New Zealand Open Record in the Men’s 200 Individual Medley, with a new personal best time of 1:57.27 seconds. He then backed that up in the semifinal with a solid 1:57.55, sending him to the final. Maintaining his 1:57 mark, Lewis swam a 1:57.70 in the final, placing him 8th! What a way to finish off an amazing first Olympic campaign. Pictured above are Lewis with his coach Gary Hollywood.
Tokyo 2020 saw the very best athletes in the world come together in a time of high uncertainty, to provide hope and prosperity for many. We, as I’m sure the swimming community as a whole, are so proud of our athlete's achievements at these games. We cannot wait to welcome them home. Well done to all athletes, coaches and officials - he mahi pai ki te katoa!