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The start of something extraordinary

World junior swim stars chase Commonwealth Games glory

World junior championship medallists Gabrielle Fa’amausili and Bobbi Gichard will head an eight-strong New Zealand swim team for the fifth Commonwealth Youth Games starting on Monday in Samoa.

The swimmers are part of a 27-strong New Zealand team comprising track and field, boxing, lawn bowls, squash, weightlifting and archery.

It is the third time that New Zealand has sent a swim team, after winning 21 medals including nine gold at the inaugural CYG in Bendigo, Australia in 2004 and 15 medals with six gold at the Isle of Man in 2011.

The swim team is led by the five athletes who have recently competed at the FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore.

Leading the way is Fa’amausili from the United club in Auckland, who successfully defended her world title in the 50m backstroke in Singapore, establishing a junior world record and New Zealand open record in the process. She also finished seventh in the 100m backstroke.

She is joined by fellow 15 year old star Gichard, from the Greendale club in Hawkes Bay, who won the bronze medal in the 100m backstroke in the fastest time by any New Zealand age group swimmer and only 0.2s off the qualifying mark for the Rio Olympics. She was also fourth in the 50m backstroke.

Another to watch will be 18 year North Shore swimmer Wilrich Coetzee, who was a finalist at his first junior world championship. He will be one of the busiest of the Kiwis with six events over the four-day meet, including three on the opening day – the 50m and 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke.

The busiest, as she was in Singapore, is 16 year old Yeonsu Lee, also from the North Shore club, who will contest seven events at Samoa where she will be looking to build on her national age record in the 200m butterfly.

Auckland’s Annabelle Paterson from the United club will be the stronger for her international debut at the junior world championships, focusing on the 200m backstroke and 200m freestyle in Samoa.

There will be interest in the appearance of Howick Pakuranga 18 year old Bayley Main, who has joined his illustrious brother Corey on scholarship at the University of Florida. He will have a tall order to match his brother’s exploits from the 2011 Youth Commonwealth Games where Corey made a clean sweep of the backstroke events.

Rounding out the New Zealand team in Samoa are newcomers Eliot Lundon-Moore 17 (Aquabladz, New Plymouth) and Mario Koenigsperger 18 (Howick Pakuranga). Both are breaststroke specialists with Koenigsperger also contesting the 50m freestyle.

It is a busy start for the New Zealand team at the excellent Samoa Aquatic Centre with Coetzee contesting the 50m and 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke heats; Lee in the 200m freestyle and 200m butterfly, Gichard in the 50m butterfly and 100m backstroke, Main in the 100m backstroke and 200m freestyle, Paterson in the 200m freestyle and Fa’amausili in the 100m backstroke.

The New Zealand team is led by head coach Gary Hurring and fellow coaches Jana Wilkitzki (Howick Pakuranga) and Cameron Stanley (North Shore) with 16 Swimming New Zealand technical officials involved in delivering the meet.

CAPTION: World junior champion Gabrielle Fa’amausili (BW Media).