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The start of something extraordinary

Teen swimmer star scores brilliant bronze

Fourteen year old Bobbi Gichard, the youngest swimmer in the field, was a blink away from victory at the Youth Olympic Games in China today.

The Hawkes Bay swimmer claimed the bronze medal in the 100m backstroke, just 3/100ths of a second from the winner Clara Smiddy after the American ran down the young Kiwi and silver medallist Jessica Fullalove (GBR) in the last stroke.

Gichard, coached by Noel Hargraves-Booth at the Greendale club, took it to her more senior opponents to lead going through the 50m turn in 29.63s. She still led until the final five metres when the British swimmer and then the American out-touched the Kiwi in a brilliant race.

Her time of 1:01.25 set a new national age group record for 14 years and is the fastest time set by any New Zealand age group swimmer up to the limit of 18 years.

Gichard said she was overwhelmed with the performance.

“I had absolutely no idea it was so close,” Gichard said. “The plan was to go max all-out the whole way and hang on. Over the last few metres I was dying.

“When I hit the wall and turned I couldn’t believe that I had the medal. Then I realised that I was so close to winning. It’s great and I am so excited.”

Gichard said the podium experience was special.

“I couldn’t stop smiling, I looked around and Michael (Mincham) was pointing and holding a New Zealand flag which he gave to me. It is so cool.”

The 14 year old also drew praise from Australian world record holder Christian Sprenger, who was the television guest commentator.

“I can’t stress enough how impressive that performance was for a 14 year old against 18 year olds. Not only that, but she was the youngest in the field and she took the race to them. It was mighty impressive,” Sprenger said.

It was the first medal in the pool for the Kiwi swimmers this week, although Gichard will not have too much time to savour the moment, as she competes in her favoured 200m backstroke later today (NZ time).

Earlier teammates Gabrielle Fa’amausili and Michael Mincham did not advance from the morning heats. Fa’amausili clocked a solid 58.34, under her qualifying time, in the 100m freestyle which was 26th fastest. Mincham was 16th fastest in heats of the 200m freestyle in 1:52.42, well under his qualifying time.

Results, women 100m backstroke final: Clara Smiddy (USA) 1:01.22, 1; Jessica Fullalove (GBR) 1:01.23, 2; Bobbi Gichard (NZL) 1:01.25, 3 (NZ age group record).

CAPTION: NANJING, Aug 18, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Jessica Fullalove(L)of Great Britain ,Clara Smiddy(C)of United States of America and Bobbi Gichard(R)of New Zealand pose on the podium for the Women's 100m backstroke medal presentation.