Watch out for these Bermuda swimmers ... their talent could take them to the very top
In New York right now, is a 17-year-old swim prodigy named Lia Neal.
She's preparing for the meet of her life, the upcoming US Nationals in Nebraska, in just over two weeks. The best of the best, including Michael Phelps, will be chosen from that meet to represent the Americans at the London Olympic Games in late July.
Neal should make the squad in the 50m and 100m freestyle events, a prediction made by all swim pundits, seven years ago.
Back then, she became the fastest ten-year-old in US swimming history over 50m, then 100m. Ponder that for a moment. Not even the great Janet Evans who won gold after gold at the Games in her time, or the legendary Darra Torres, or former phenom Natalie Coughlin ever swam faster when they were ten.
The media caught on quickly. Not just because Neal was a prodigy in the pool, but because she was …. different in other ways. Firstly, she was 5ft 7in. At 17 she is now 6ft. Also, she has a Chinese mother and an African-American father. You can see where the media went with this — she was, and is, hailed as the Tiger Woods of swimming.
So … who cares?
Well, this week in Bermuda, at the BASA pool, you should care about two girls, also ten, who are competing in the Computer Cabling Systems Bermuda National Swim Championships. And here's the reason for this story both of them are Lia Neal-like …. in talent!
Their names are Ashley Irby and Emma Harvey — and before you turn away because you think this might be just another feel-good yarn about two kids with talent, DON'T. I can assure you, having been around talented swimmers all my life as part of the high performance swimming programmes in Australia, that Ashley and Emma are way beyond anything Bermuda has ever offered the world of swimming. And probably any sport for that matter.
And here's why.
They are both averaged-sized ten-year-olds. Both are still under 5ft.
“Ashley's father is 6ft 6in,” beamed her coach Richard Goodwin. He knows what that means.
Conveniently, he coaches Emma too. “They train and push each other every session, every lap. And that should continue for years to come.”
The hardest thing for any prodigy in sport is to go it alone. To have two equally gifted superstars the same age, on the Island at the same time, and being coached by the same mentor…. that's priceless.
Now let's add the fact Bermuda will soon have its first 50m pool…and you have a cocktail of delicious possibilities. “I think we're looking at the best of the best coming through when we talk about Emma and Ashley,” Goodwin said. “And what they potentially can do is really beyond exciting for sport in Bermuda.”
Now, comparisons are compelling. When Lia Neal was ten and 5ft 7in, she swam 50m freestyle in 28.59 seconds to establish that US All Time Record. Her average time for the distance was 29.87 sec.
Ashley's time is 30.71 seconds, a Bermuda record. That's about a body length behind the greatest the US has EVER produced!
As for Emma Harvey, her strength is her strength. She is sensational at every swim discipline. She holds the Bermuda 50m butterfly record and will take a seeded time of 33.33 seconds into this week's meet for that event. The greatest EVER US time by a ten-year-old for 50m butterfly is 30.56 seconds set in 2007 by Ella Eastin.
“Emma is such a beautiful technician that I don't think there's any doubt she will develop into a world class medley swimmer,” claimed Goodwin.
There's another youngster of note too. His name is Tyler Smith, and he is a 13-year-old who oozes athletic talent. His swim times are good but not near the quality of the girls at present. And that's because his skinny frame has yet to work in harmony with his talent. When it does, he will become the best 800m and 1500m swimmer Bermuda has ever seen. He already is for everyone 18 and under.
I watched first hand, two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist and former 1500m world record holder Kieran Perkins become a global superstar in swimming. Yet at 16, he could not make an A-final at the Australian nationals because, while his heart was courageous, he simply lacked the under water power. At 19…his body had filled out and he was on his way to world glory. “I was at the meet where Kieren first set his 1500m world record and was in awe of his ability. Tyler has that much talent too, not just in the water, but at school and in running also. His father is a good-sized man while his mum, as we know, is a champion athlete so his genes will kick in and he will develop,” said the coach. Tyler's mother is Bermudian triathlon great, Karen Smith.
All three will be joined by other emerging swimming stars like Jesse Washington, Shannon Hassell, Gen Lau, Ethan Daley, Dejan Wellman, Nic Patterson, Madelyn Moore, Vaughan Rowse and Jessica Bruton at the national titles starting tomorrow night at BASA.
Thousands turn out for Bermuda Day parade
Butterfield wins May 24
Spinal surgery for teenager Mihdi Brock
Breaking away into a new tradition
Butterfield wins May 24
Bermuda Day float winners named
Contest makes clean sweep
Take Our Poll