WHAKATANE swimmer John Clark is pleased with his results at the New Zealand Open Championships last week, where he finished in the top-10 in three events.
The 19-year-old is on a swimming scholarship at a Hawaiian University, but the Beacon caught up with him while he is home on a one-month summer break to visit his family and to compete at the 2019 AON NZ Open Championships, which took place at the Sir Owen Glenn National Aquatic Centre on Auckland’s North Shore.
The event drew 312 athletes, along with 119 coaches and team managers, with some top swimmers qualifying for the 18th Fina World Championships to be held in South Korea in July.
Clark said his best event was the 400-metre freestyle, where he finished fifth with a time of 4.02.40 and took 4.07 seconds off his previous best time.
“It was my first A final nationally and we finished fifth with a PB (personal best),” he said.
Whakatane Swimming Club’s Caroline Paulsen, who is studying health sciences in Otago, also competed at the open championships, swimming in the heats in the 100m and 200m backstroke and 50m breaststroke.
Clark was also pleased with his 8th placing in the 800m freestyle.
“I had a 17 second drop. That was quite exciting because it wasn’t a big event for me.
“I am still an aspiring distance swimmer, so it was good. I swam it last year, so this was the second time I have swum it (at nationals). I did a lot better this year and broke into the top 10, I think I finished 16th last year.”
The former Trident High School student also broke into the top 10 with his 200m freestyle, finishing 9th with a time of 1.52.58 and taking 4.54 seconds off his previous personal best.
‘That was a good time and I was happy with that.”
He also swam the 100m freestyle but did not make it into the finals.
“I think there is a lot of work to do, and there is more space to improve. I am just aiming to be the best I can be right now. There is no particular goal, wherever it will take me it will take me,’ he said of his swimming.
Clark came over to the national competition with six team-mates from Hawaii, as well as his coach Elliot Ptasnik, but swam for the Whakatane Swimming Club.
Two of his team-mates, ‘aukai Lileikis and Talon Lindquist, are spending time with him in Whakatane before they head back.
After almost a year in Hawaii, Clark said he was working hard – academically and in the pool – and between training and classes, there was no time to spare.
He is studying towards two degrees, a Bachelor of Art in public health as well as a Bachelor of Art in Hawaiian studies, and trains with a squad of about 60 swimmers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“We do about 20 hours a week [swimming training] and that includes two or three strength trainings in the gym, and a lot more weights, so that has made quite a difference for me.
“We have three coaches and one is a distance coach who I work with a lot and one is a stroke coach … and a sprint coach. You can specialise a lot more.”
Clark said he was not on any particular diet. “Just eat as much as you can because you are burning so much.
I think I am eating a lot more calories with the American food. There is an unlimited supply of chocolate milk,” he laughs.
His swimming has also given him the opportunity to travel.
“We have dual meets against other universities, including the University of Wisconsin, University of Simon Fraser and University of Minnesota and we travel to the mainland two or three times a year.”
One of the biggest changes the swimmer has had to get used to is training and competing in yards, with the short-course pools only 25 yards long rather than 25 metres as standard everywhere else.
“I was getting a bit dizzy doing all the turns,” he laughs.