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Kiwi Olympic medal hopeful to join rivals in Paris buildup

Adam Cooper,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Dec 2023, 1:47PM
Lewis Clareburt, a double Commonwealth Games champion, will train in Arizona. Photo / Photosport
Lewis Clareburt, a double Commonwealth Games champion, will train in Arizona. Photo / Photosport

Kiwi Olympic medal hopeful to join rivals in Paris buildup

Adam Cooper,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Dec 2023, 1:47PM

Olympic medal hope Lewis Clareburt will spend the next month collaborating with several of his main swimming rivals, as the 24-year-old enters a new chapter in his Paris 2024 buildup.

A month after ditching his Wellington training base and signing on with new Auckland outfit Club 37, the double Commonwealth Games champion has this week jetted off to Phoenix, Arizona, where he’ll train within the world-renowned aquatic programme at Arizona State University (ASU), boasting some of the globe’s leading medley athletes and coaches.

The facility is headed by Bob Bowman, who famously coached American Michael Phelps to his 23 Olympic gold medals, two of them in Clareburt’s specialist 400-metre individual medley event.

Under Bowman’s watch at ASU are several of Clareburt’s leading rivals for the Paris Olympics, including 21-year-old Frenchman Léon Marchand, who put the swimming world on notice in July by smashing Michael Phelps’ 400m medley 2008 world record by more than one second, posting 4 minutes, 2.50 seconds.

Clareburt’s personal best in the event is 4:08.70, recorded in his gold medal winning swim at last year’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

He’ll also complete immersion training with the Tokyo 2021 Olympic gold and silver 400 IM medallists, Americans Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, who’ve both been lured to Bowman’s programme within the last Olympic cycle.

Swimming New Zealand Olympic programme lead Gary Francis is touting the month away as a major opportunity for Clareburt, who will look to qualify for a second Olympics at February’s World Championships in Doha.

“It’s a really high level programme, he’s surrounded by fellow Olympians, medal winners and world record holders,” Francis said.

“As well, it gives Lewis the opportunity to see what his rivals are doing – hopefully he doesn’t give too much away himself – but at the same time it will give him the chance to test himself against those guys.

The ASU opportunity has arisen through Clareburt’s new alignment with Auckland entity Club 37, which has recently been contracted by Swimming New Zealand to oversee the final eight months of his Paris Olympic campaign after Clareburt walked from his Wellington training base in October, due to constant battles for lane space in public pools.

Club 37 – led by head coach Mitch Nairn and run in cohesion with Mount Albert Grammar School’s aquatics programme – was only established at the start of the year, but already boasts an impressive list of high performance swimmers including 2022 Commonwealth Games 50m backstroke champion Andrew Jeffcoat.

In its club debut at this year’s national open championships, its squad of 13 won 32 medals, including 19 golds.

Nairn is expecting to see significant advancements from Clareburt when he returns to Club 37′s high performance squad upon arrival back from the United States in early January.

“They do a bit of a ‘hell month’ over there, and he’s going to be surrounded by some amazing people,” Nairn told the Herald.

“He’ll be able to be talking to the likes of Bob Bowman, as well as the awesome and amazing Herbie Behm, who’s the sprint coach over there and a scientific swimming genius.

“To be in and around those people and mixing with them for a month is going to be phenomenal for Lewis, and then he’ll come back to continue our preparations for Doha.”

The Arizona trip begins a crucial final eight months for Clareburt’s Paris campaign. While watching his leading rivals like Marchand rise to world record times, his own 400m IM times have slipped since his gold medal in Birmingham.

At July’s world championships in Japan, Clareburt’s time of 4:11.29 was three seconds slower than his personal best, while he posted 4:15.13 at his most recent race in November at a Swimming NZ meet in Auckland.

“We’re definitely working on the skill aspects around the 400 IM, closely around underwater turn works, stroke count, developing easy speed and getting Lewis’ fitness back up to 100 per cent,” Nairn said.

Nairn said Club 37 was delighted to add Clareburt to its ranks, and believes he was lured to their environment due to the array of talented swimmers in the club.

“Having those like-minded people around you within that environment, having fun, working hard, I think was a large drawcard [for Clareburt], as well as the solid plan we’d put in place on how we’re going to move forward into the Olympics.

“We’re one of the biggest clubs in New Zealand now and we’ve got some of the fastest swimmers in the country.”

Nairn also acknowledged the eight-year partnership Clareburt had with previous coach Gary Hollywood in Wellington, which brought him two gold medals and two bronzes at the Commonwealth Games, and a world championship bronze in 2019.

“What Gary has done for Lewis has been absolutely phenomenal for what he’s had to deal with in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and I know it wasn’t an easy decision to make on Lewis’ part [to leave Wellington].

“The plan remains the same – we’re seeking a medal at the Olympic Games, and that’s what we’re working hard towards.”

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