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Former Manawatu swimmer Cara Baker is primed to take the first steps towards the London Olympics at the State Insurance national open water championships in Taupo on Saturday.
Baker, now based on the Gold Coast, is keen to defend her women’s title in the 10km and 5km double which are run in conjunction with the Epic Swim Festival. This incorporates the New Zealand Masters 2.5km Open Water title and a range of recreational swims from 100m to 500m for kids from five years up, along with 2.5km, 5km and 10km swims for age group and adult swimmers.
Swimmers must finish in the top five in the 10km race on Saturday to earn a start in the Australian Open Water Championships in March, where a top four placing or finish within 20 seconds of the winner will gain selection to the World Championships in Shanghai in July. A top-10 placing in Shanghai gets automatic selection for London.
The 20-year-old Baker has her eyes fixed not only on victory at the weekend but on the big picture, ultimately to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
“The form is pretty good. Since I came back to the Gold Coast after the New Zealand Short Course Champs I’ve been focussing on the bigger distances and getting my endurance base back up again,” Baker said.
“Training has been going well and I haven’t been sick at all which can happen in the big training phase. It’s definitely looking up training-wise.”
While Baker is keen to make her mark on the weekend she also needs to focus on the upcoming Australian championships.
“You have to work out what the key events are because you can’t taper for every meet. So accordingly I am not tapered at all for this weekend. I am just going to do the race and hopefully get the job done. And after a break from racing it will be good to get out there and get a feel for the water again.
“London is my big goal of course. To get there I have to get into things this weekend, swim well at the Australian champs and then nail a top-10 at the worlds in Shanghai. I really think I am capable of that.”
She faces real competition from Alannah Jury (North Shore), 13th in the world championships two years ago, her younger sister Laura Baker and some talented Australians led by Samantha Hoschke-Edwards, who was fourth in their national championships last year.
The battle for honours in the men’s race is shaping up as one of the most even for many years.
Favourites include Wellington’s Casey Glover (Capital), second last year, Rotorua’s Kane Radford (Swim Rotorua) who won the 2009 Tiberon Mile in USA, Otago’s Bryn Murphy (Waves) and Auckland’s Phillip Ryan (Waterhole) who was third last year.
The Australian challenge comes from Joshua Richardson, 10km national champion at 16 years, and there’s also considerable interest in the entry of disabled swim star Brendan Hall. e
The leg amputee won four world titles at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) last year and was a Beijing Olympian.
The 10km New Zealand Championship starts at 11am on Saturday after the age and open events, with Sunday’s racing featuring the NZ Masters 2.5km swim at 9am and the New Zealand 5km swim at 10am.