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The start of something extraordinary

Baker goes to school for Olympic qualifying open water swim

London hopeful Cara Baker is hoping to put some good learnings into practice in Saturday’s crucial Olympic qualifying 10km open water swim in Taupo.

The 21 year old is favoured to secure one of the two spots up for grabs for the leading New Zealanders in both men’s and women’s races to progress to June’s final qualifying event in Portugal.

The State New Zealand 10km Open Water Championship, which has attracted a world class field from Australia and New Zealand, is part of the two-day Epic Swim in Lake Taupo this weekend comprising a range of championship and recreational swims.

The main focus is tomorrow’s Olympic qualifier, with Baker wanting to dispel the problems of her last 10km effort at the 2011 world championships in China, when she needed medical clearance after fainting twice, finishing 22nd.

“I learned a lot of things about myself in Shanghai, not just with the nutrition from the illness,” Baker said. “I learned that mentally I am a lot stronger than I realised. There are a few tactics I want to change and things with the feeding I want to change to see how it works out. I am learning with every race.”

Baker will find plenty of challengers led by outstanding Taranaki swimmer Charlotte Webby and a pack of strong Australians led by 2009 world champion Melissa Gorman.

“The first thing is to get the job done and get in the top two kiwis to get to Portugal.

“I don’t want to have a race that is not competitive. What I am trying to learn and put into practice is how to race at a world class level so I don’t want it to be slower and tactical. That won’t be the case with Melissa in the field.

“Charlotte Webby is coming back from competing in the 200 butterfly in the pool. In the State Ocean Series we have been fighting it out together.

“It will be definitely good as New Zealanders to go against Melissa to see where we stand in terms of our preparations for Portugal.”

“She is currently in the top 10 in the world in the pool right now and in open water she is easily in the top five and will probably win a medal in the Olympics.”

A key change will be that the women will compete in their own wave and not in a mass start where they can key off the males.

“I therefore was going to have to rethink my approach. But with Melissa in the field it should be a strong pace upfront and if that’s the case it is exactly what I need.

“I am still building and Taupo will be a matter of taking what I learned from the worlds and taking through to that swim.

“I want to play around with a few things in terms of my swim plan. I want to get in there and have a good swim and see just where I am at in terms of my preparation.”

Webby has been hard at work under coach Sue Southgate at the Aquabladz club in New Plymouth after spending a month under much vaunted Australian coach Ken Wood last year, in the same programme as Gorman.

Other kiwis to watch include Bridget Maher (Waterhole, Auckland) and Emma Robinson (Capital) while Gorman, the five-time Australian champion, heads a trio of visitors from across the Tasman along with Jessica Bayliss and Emily Seymour.

The men’s race features a battle among the kiwis including Kane Radford (Rotorua), defending champion Phillip Ryan (Waterhole), Casey Glover (Capital, Wellington), Jonathan Pullon (Waterhole) and Stefan Talbot (Howick Pakuranga).

They will have plenty of competition in the form of FINA World Cup winner Trent Grimsey and fellow Australian Josh Richardson.

Racing begins at 9am with the State New Zealand 10km Championship to start at 11am.