Thank goodness Lauren Boyle's shoulders are broad from countless years churning through water, devoted to the pool floor's black line.
At the London Olympics, the 24-year-old freestyler - perhaps with support from breaststroker Glenn Snyders and backstroker Gareth Kean - holds the key to Swimming New Zealand's (SNZ) future funding.
Sparc, the predecessor to Sport New Zealand, has long claimed a medal and five finals would be the minimum return required by SNZ to maintain similar levels of funding to the $6.6m received over this Olympic cycle.
New Zealand made four finals at the world championships in Shanghai last July but a first Olympic medal in 16 years still seems a stretch.
Progress has been stunted by the sport's administrative botch-ups. A swag of reviews and recommendations have been mixed with regional discontent and the eventual exits of chairman Murray Coulter, performance and pathways manager Jan Cameron and chief executive Mike Byrne. That in turn has put pressure on top athletes to swim not only for their futures but also the medium termfuture of the sport.
It is a significant pressure for 20-something athletes to bear.New Zealand athletes' lead-up results to the Games in five of the six taxpayer-targeted Olympic sports (rowing, triathlon, sailing, cycling and athletics) mean medals are expected. Swimming is the outlier. No athletes are in top three contention on current
Still, Boyle is upbeat about her prospects. She assumes the figurehead role within the team by default because she is racing the 200m, 400m, 800m and 4x200m freestyle relay; that's the biggest commitment of anyone in the record 16-strong New Zealand squad (which includes four relay teams).
"In 2008, I only swam on a [4x200m freestyle] relay," Boyle says. "This time, I get to prepare for a few races individually, which is exciting. I'mlucky to have seen how the village works and the competitive nature of the Olympics."
Boyle's influence has grown since spearheading SNZ's world championship campaign last July. Under coach Mark Regan, she was a finalist in the 400m and 800m freestyle and a semifinalist in the 200m freestyle. She also guided the New Zealand team to Olympic qualification with eighth in the 4x200m freestyle relay.With Regan, she helped lobby for investment in an altitude camp last November-December in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Boyle is aware of the rising expectations: "The swimming results from this campaign will decide the sport's future funding. It is a high pressure situation. The presence of issues with Swimming New Zealand at management level has been felt. However, the feeling among our Olympic team is positive and confirmation of our relay teams adds to the excitement. It's still the country's biggest Olympic swimming team."
Regan is understandably protective of his charge, telling the Herald on Sunday in January he didn't want his athletes "carrying an extra 10kg of public expectation into the Olympics. I don't give a rat's arse what people want, the only thing we can ask [of athletes] is for them to do their best. I just want to see them touch the wall, take their goggles off and smile because they have done a personal best."
Boyle and Regan are currently in Cairns working through Boyle's last intense block of pre-Games training.
"Mark and I have worked hard building my aerobic fitness over the past year. I haven't had a huge distance training/racing background so this has been an important improvement to make. Mark has a great deal of experience, having coached many of the world's best swimmers [his charges have won six Olympic medals]. He has lots to share about racing like a pro. It's fun to learn from him and hear stories about his past as to howhe went about being successful.
"I really enjoy coming away on New Zealand camps. The concentration levels within the group are much higher than usual. I can often find ways to practice more deeply while I'm away from home and avoiding distractions."
Boyle won the 800m and 1500m at the prestigious Santa Clara meet last week in California against credible opposition. It also gave her a chance to catch up with her former University of California, Berkeley coach Teri McKeever, who doubles as the American women's coach.
"We had the pleasure of Lauren's company for nearly two weeks," McKeever says. "She is focused, determined and purposeful in her approach and it was wonderful to have that influence in the group. I was impressed with her racing at Santa Clara; she had a definite plan on how to approach each race and the meet with the idea of getting ready for London. It was fun to see her race with intention and confidence."
"Going into Santa Clara, I knew I wanted to practice racing strategies," Boyle says. "I had a good plan for the meet but wasn't convinced I could swim fast. However, I executed those strategies well and made the most of racing opportunities. I think I did well to stick to my own plan and didn't care what anyone else was doing.
"It was great catching up with Teri. She helps me figure out how to improve without giving the answers. It is a powerful way of learning. It was great to touch base with someone of her expertise before London."