World Junior Championships 2019


I have never been a fan of age group swimming. Usually the results have little to do with talent or potential. Results simply reflect those whose adult genetic make-up has matured earliest. There is more evidence to support the argument that early age group success is a strong indication of failure as a senior than the other way around. The rule is beware of success in age group swimming. At age group championships pray for failure. It is usually a better indicator of success as a senior. Certainly beware of age group championship gold medals.

For example, swimmers I have coached, Jane Copland never won a age group championship but won senior titles okay. Toni Jeffs never won a junior title but won plenty of championships as a senior. Nichola Chellingworth never won a junior title but was successful as a senior.

The list of red-hot juniors whose flame fades early is just as long. Take Ashley Rupapera for example. In 2006/07 she was amazing; at 14 years old she claimed her second New Zealand national age group record with a 100IM time of 1:05.30. In the Junior Championships she entered 13 individual events, swam in 22 races and won four gold medals and two silver medals. That’s ten more races than Phelps in six fewer days. I don’t know what Ashley is doing today. However, sadly, it does not include elite New Zealand swimming.

We should learn from the example of Johanna Konta currently 9th in the in the world tennis rankings and 2017 Wimbledon Championship semi-finalist. At 14 years of age she was told by Australian Tennis that she “lacked the requisite talent and potential” to be a champion.” Carl Lewis, who himself was ranked fourth in the world as a junior, was convinced. He said, “There is no correlation between a childhood success and a professional athlete.”

Scientists at the American Aquatic Research Centre in Boulder, Colorado agree. In one study they scanned the hand joints of every member of the American Olympic swimming team. Their purpose was to determine what portion of the swimmers had been early developers, on time and late developers. Evidently the rate at which the hand joints close can measure an individual’s physical maturity. Of the forty athletes tested only two had matured early, five had matured on time and the majority were late developers.

The American scientists concluded that the probable explanation for the stunning failure of swimmers who develop early is the almost impossible burden of handling their early success, followed by the struggle to stay ahead of late developers who were such easy beats a few years earlier. Over and over again it happens; junior winners find it impossible to handle the “shame” of being beaten by slow swimmers who used to be miles behind and often didn’t even make finals. Interpreting it all as a failure on their part the early superstars go off to the local surf patrol or to a water polo team. And that is absolutely understandable.

And so with those words of caution here are the results of the New Zealand team at the World Junior Championships this week in Budapest, Hungary. Unlike Steve Johns I was hoping for PBs but desperately praying no one would win a race – or even make a final. If that happened, NZ juniors would be tracking along just fine.

Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Quinton Hurley 400 Free M 3:57.59 3:55.64 PB 20
Bre Crawford 50 Brst W 32.23 32.69 21
Zac Dell 100 Back M 55.63 55.93 15
100 Back M SF 55.63 55.56 PB 14
Luan Grobbelaar 100 Back M 57.32 58.09 42


Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Quinton Hurley 200 Free M 1:54.79 1:52.81 PB 27
Luan Grobbelaar 200 IM M 2:02.69 2:03.52 15
Erika Fairweather 100 Free W 55.60 56.21 16
100 Free W SF 55.60 55.73 12
Amadika Atkinson 100 Free W 56.34 57.51 36


Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Quinton Hurley 800 Free M 8:11.41 8:07.25 PB 15
Michael Pickett 50 Free M 22.34 22.61 4
50 Free M SF 22.34 22.51 5
Bre Crawford 100 Brst 1:09.98 1:11.22 24
Zac Dell 50 Back M 25.92 26.15 18


Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Michael Pickett 50 Free M F 22.34 22.46 4
Bre Crawford 200 IM W 2:18.46 2:23.70 36
Luan Grobbelaar 200 Brst M 2:16.19 2:16.26 18
Erika Fairweather 400 Free W 4:09.33 4:10.77 6
400 Free W F 4:09.33 4:08.78 PB 4


Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Luan Grobbelaar 400 IM M 4:21.81 4:23.83 13
Michael Pickett 100 Free M 50.39 50.47 12
100 Free M SF 50.39 50.49 14
Erika Fairweather 50 Free W 26.17 26.68 29
Amadika Atkinson 50 Free W 26.50 26.86 34


Name Event PB Time Swum Place
Erika Fairweather 200 Free W 1:58.84 1:59.87 3
200 Free W F 1:58.84 1:57.96 PB 1
Amadika Atkinson 200 Free W 2:02.20 2:04.80 34
Zac Dell 200 Back M 2:02.76 2:04.54 27
Bre Crawford 200 Brst W 2:30.05 2:34.52 25
Quinton Hurley 1500 Free M 15:31.85 15:31.72 PB 12

As you can see this New Zealand junior team has returned with one medal; a creditable gold by Erika Fairweather. In this case I believe that is dangerous. The swimmer next closest to danger was Pickett (4th). The average placing of team members was a safe 18th.

Dr John Mullen, editor of the “Swimming Science Research Review”, conducted a study published on the website, “Swimming Science”. Mullen examined 87 swimmers who had competed in the 2008 Junior World Championships and evaluated their performance in the 2012 Olympic Games. Of the 87 swimmers, 66 swimmers (76%) did not participate in the Olympic Games. Of the 21 swimmers (24%) who did qualify to compete in the Games, no one won a medal and just 3 (4%) managed to qualify for a final.

The message? Be careful of junior results.

And so while one medal is only a problem for the swimmer who won the medal, NZ’s very low ratio of personal best times is something to worry about. In this meet the team achieved 7 personal best times from 31 swims – 23%. This result continues a concerning feature of New Zealand swimming through the Commonwealth Games, the Pan Pacific Games, the World Short Course Championships the World Long Course Championships and now the Junior World Championships. The table below shows the PB times achieved by NZ swimmers in each of those meets.

Event No. Swims PBs Percent
2018 Commonwealth Games 65 18 28%
Pan Pacific Games 16 5 31%
SC World Championships 44 10 22%
LC World Championships 20 3 15%
Junior World Championships 31 7 23%
Total All 176 43 24%

Through 5 international meets an average PB ratio of 24% is nowhere near good enough. In excess of 50% should be a minimum. One would expect the PB percentage at a junior meet to be higher. The swimmers are younger and presumably in a higher rate of improvement phase of their careers. But, for some reason, that is not happening in New Zealand. The questions therefore are –

  1. Why is NZ’s PB ratio of 24% so low and
  2. Why is the junior PB ratio (19%) worse than the senior ratio and
  3. Why does the performance of New Zealand swimmers deteriorate the more important the meet involved. – from 30% for a regional championship like the Pan Pacific or Commonwealth Games down to 20% and 15% for a World Championship.

In my view the answer is too much championship racing. Evenly spread throughout a one year, twelve month, period New Zealand’s best swimmers have been expected to perform at their best in 5 major international championships plus 2 qualifying national championships. That’s 7 peaks in 12 months or 1 international PB quality peak every 7 weeks – impossible.

Of course I know that no swimmer swam the full schedule of 7 championships. However quite a few of New Zealand’s best swimmers swam in 4 or 5. Even that is a peak event every 10 weeks – still impossible. The sort of peak needed for a World Championships or Commonwealth Games requires twice that time, or around 20 weeks – a maximum of 2 per year.

And the problem of the race program is NOT the swimmer’s fault, or the coach’s fault. That problem is down to Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill. They approved the national and international schedule and just look at what they expected. Really, they couldn’t organize a piss up in brewery.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.