Olympic Gold Medalist Rhi Jeffrey, Justin Wright in Controversial Relationship in New Zealand

WEST AUCKLAND, New Zealand, July 4. NEW Zealand's Justin Wright, 17, sued and won his right to join in a legal contract with Swimming New Zealand after his parents withdrew their consent to compete in an attempt to stop a relationship with U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Rhi Jeffrey, who is 24.

Jeffrey moved to Auckland to train at the West Auckland Aquatic Club, and struck up a relationship with Wright after doing so. Wright's parents were unhappy with the age discrepancy, and the fact that Wright had yet to become an adult. Notably, New Zealand's age of consent is 16.

Since Wright would not end the relationship at the request of his parents, Paul and Sandy decided to withdraw their consent for him to continue to train, including not paying his dues to Swimming New Zealand. Wright, in what local media members consider to be a legal precedent, won permission from a court to become a member of Swimming New Zealand "against his parents' wishes." Swimming New Zealandhad originally terminated Wright's membership since he was under 18 and did not have parental consent.

Wright, who turns 18 in three months, has already moved in with Jeffrey.

"I couldn't believe they had done that," Wright told the New Zealand Herald. "But now that we have been through the court and I can swim I am pretty happy. I'm not sure how they feel now, I tried. Things are good with Rhi, really good."

Jeffrey, meanwhile, has defended her relationship with Wright.

"It was unfortunate that it came to this. I can understand their reservations about the age difference but I see myself as a big kid anyway." Jeffrey told the New Zealand Herald. "It would be one thing if they had made their minds up after they met me," she said. "I am a very abrasive in-your-face kind of person and a lot of people don't appreciate that but those people don't know me from the next person on the street."

Jeffrey is best known for winning a gold medal as a member of the preliminary squad of the Olympic gold medal winning 800 freestyle relay for the United States at the 2004 Athens Games.

Wright's father Paul denies that they withdrew their consent due to Wright's relationship with Jeffrey.

"There is a lot of bad blood at the moment." Paul Wright told the New Zealand Herald. "We wanted him to come to us with a financial plan of how he was going to support himself to swim competitively. And he didn't do that. We pay for his schooling but we couldn't pay for his swimming, which we see as an extracurricular thing."

Justin Wright's coach, David Wright (no relation), has written about the situation on his blog SwimWatch.

Full text of New Zealand Herald article.