Lewis Clareburt produced a spectacular freestyle leg to power into the semifinals of the 200m individual medley with another national record.
The 22-year-old stopped the clock at 1:57.27 to be the third-fastest qualifier out of tonight’s heats, shaking off a slow start to once more raise eyebrows at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.
Just four days removed from an outstanding Olympic debut, when Clareburt won his 400m individual medley heat in a national-record time, the Kiwi showed no signs of an emotional hangover.
His search for New Zealand’s first swimming medal since 1996 eventually came up empty after a seventh-place finish in the 400m final, but Clareburt might just get another shot yet.
That’s no guarantee – the Wellington swimmer rates the shorter distance as a distant second in his personal preference. But that rating was far from obvious during tonight’s heat.
In a race paced by American favourite Michael Andrew – who flirted with the world record – Clareburt was slow out of the blocks and touched last after the first leg, moving up one place by the halfway point.
A solid breaststroke put the Kiwi back in touch with those trailing in Andrew’s wake before Clareburt found an extra gear on the final freestyle leg to reach the wall third, 0.87s behind Andrew and 0.62s inside his personal best.
That position was the same he would occupy in the top 16 that advanced to tomorrow afternoon’s semifinals, a smooth passage for a sleek swimmer.
Clareburt will have to overcome the “morning blues” he blamed for an underwhelming effort in the 400m final on Sunday – the semifinals will again be early in the day in Tokyo.
But that seems about the only thing that can stop New Zealand swimming’s newest star.
Unfortunately, the news wasn’t quite so pleasing for this country’s other bright light in the pool at these Games.
Erika Fairweather, who on Sunday qualified fourth the 400m freestyle final, was unable to inspire the Kiwi team in their 4x200m freestyle relay.
Fairweather, Eve Thomas, Ali Galyer and Carina Doyle finished sixth in their heat with a time of 8:06.16, more than 21 seconds behind winners Australia as they failed to make the final.
New Zealand were in a promising position after Fairweather touched third having led off the relay, but soon slipped well of the pace to conclude the 17-year-old’s first Games.
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