TAUPO, New Zealand, January 12. ROTORUA's Kane Radford and Australian-based Cara Baker retained their titles in the State New Zealand Open Water Swim Championships in Taupo today.
Radford took out the men's 10km event after a close battle with Auckland's Philip Ryan while Baker held off the torrid challenge from young Wellington swimmer Emma Robinson in the women's race.
That means all four swimmers have qualified for the world championships to be held in Barcelona later in the year, with the winners earning automatic places and the second placed swimmer qualifying if they finished within one minute of the winner.
Radford led the pack through the first two laps of the men's race before turning up the pace. Former national champion Ryan (Waterhole) was up to the task, to push Radford all the way to the final, with the Rotorua swimmer winning in 1:58.45 and Ryan just three seconds behind.
Radford said it proved a hard fought win in ideal conditions on Lake Taupo.
"The first 5km was about getting into a rhythm and then I tried to shake him (Ryan) in the last little bit but I couldn't. It was a great race and he did a great job," Radford said.
"It feels great to have the national championship title. It is what you aim for to be the best in your country and hopefully on to the rest of the world. To be able to back it up for last year is great."
Radford said he has learned from his experiences after missing out in the final qualification race for the London Olympics.
"Against the best in the world you have to be prepared to turn up the speed at the flick of a light-switch and not let it hurt you and be prepared to go the last lap and put the hammer down."
Baker scored her fourth national title but like Radford, did not have things her own way. She led the way but was pushed to the limit by two 16 year olds in Robinson, from the Capital club, and Ashburton's Grace Sommerville.
"It feels fantastic. It has been a bit hard since not qualifying for the Olympics so I just wanted to come in and relax and not worry too much about it," Baker said.
The Gold Coast based swimmer, who has been a lone figure at the top of the sport, is pleased to have some stern competition.
"I knew the young girls were stronger this year. I was aware of what was going on and managed to touch first. I am excited there's a new bunch of talented younger girls coming through. Open water needs it."
Robinson, who was sixth last year, was surprised by her second placing.
"I wanted to stay with the front pack and on the second lap I took a bit of a surge and got on to Cara's feet and stayed there which was the best thing to do," Robinson said.
She is overwhelmed that she has qualified for the world championships.
"It hasn't really hit yet. That is a bit scary as I wasn't really expecting that at all. I just wanted to come in and relax and have fun."
The national championships is part of the State Epic Swim with the 5km national championships tomorrow along with a range of recreational swims over the weekend, which has attracted a record entry of more than 550 swimmers.
Results, State NZ Open Water Swimming championships:
Elite men 10km: Kane Radford (Rotorua) 1:58.45, 1; Phillip ryan (Waterhole) 1:58.48, 2; Troy Balvert (St Peters) 2:01.53, 3.
Elite women, 10km: Cara Baker (Howick Pakuranga) 2:04.32, 1; Emma Robinson (Capital) 2:04.36, 2; Grace Sommerville (Ashburton) 2:04.41, 3.
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