Sunshine Coast schoolgirl Lani Pallister has shown what a combination of hard work and repeat international competitions can do after winning four individual medals - three of them gold in an eye-catching Junior Pan Pacs in Fiji.
The 30-strong Australian Junior Team won 13 medals – four gold, five silver and four bronze medals – in a highly competitive four-day meet against the might of USA, Canada and Japan, which concluded in Suva last night and follows the successful Pan Pacs in Tokyo and Para Pan Pacs in Cairns.
The 16-year-old Maroochydore State High School student re-wrote her personal bests no less than six times to scoop the pool, winning gold in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle and silver in the 200m freestyle.
She also played key roles in Australia’s silver-medal winning 4x100 and 4x200m freestyle relays.
Australia’s fourth gold went to emerging UWA West Coast freestyle sprinter Ash Brinkworth who kept his US rivals at bay to win the 50m freestyle in 22.72, also finishing fourth in the 100m freestyle in 50.24.
Other individual medals went to: Brendon Smith (Silver - 400m freestyle in 3:52.67pb); Shaun Champion, Abbotsleigh in NSW (Bronze – 100m butterfly in 53.66pb); Eliza King from Rackley in QLD (Bronze 100m freestyle in 54.92pb) and Natasha Ramsden from Abbotsleigh in NSW (Bronze – 50m freestyle in 25.65pb).
Brinkworth combined with Angus McDonald, Jack Edie and Joseph Jackson to take silver behind the USA in the 4x100m freestyle relay and bronze with Smith, Silas Harris and Thomas Neill behind the USA and Japan in the 4x200m freestyle.
But it was the girl who is just as much at home in the pool as she is in the surf off Alexandra Headland on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, who has emerged as a real chance to join mum Janelle Elford as an Olympian – if not in 2020 in Tokyo then in 2024 in Paris.
Pallister, whose dad Rick was an Australian surf lifesaving champion and triathlete, capped off her near perfect meet for Australia last night by taking over 20 seconds off her personal best time in the 1500m freestyle.
She set a new Championship record in the newest Olympic event on the women’s swimming program in 16:08.09 (2:05.07; 4:14.65; 8:34.89)– almost four seconds faster than American Becca Mann’s 2012 mark of 16:11.98.
Pallister joins another teen sensation Ariarne Titmus, plus her recent fellow Pac Pacs stars Kiah Melverton, Kareena Lee and Madeleine Gough in a four-pronged attack on the 2018 middle distance and distance freestyle record books.
She rockets into the Australian All-time top ten for 1500m – leap frogging none other than her mother, 1988 Olympian, Janelle Elford (16:10.11) in the rankings.
Elford, a two-time Olympic finalist, Commonwealth Games gold medallist and two-time Pan Pacs champion over 1500m freestyle, is now her coach and was pool side in Suva to witness young Lani’s coming of age.
“I’m just so proud of her, as a mum and as a coach; she has worked so hard and she really deserves it, just a wonderful feeling...I'm happy for her, “said Elford.
“The first night was a big night….actually massive night. Silver in the 200m freestyle in a personal best and then gold in the 800m, the first time under 8.30.
“And to top it off the medals were presented by Aussie Team athlete Mentor Jodie Henry now Jodie Notting, a three-time Olympic gold medallist from 2004."
Lani clocked a personal best of 8:29.65 (4:14.62/4:15.03) for the 800m after her silver, in the 200m in another best time of 1:59.00.
She continued her career best form on Friday night – clocking another personal best 1:58.83 in the lead off for 200m in the 4x200m freestyle relay, swimming faster in the relay lead off than her individual, and was joined on the podium by fellow emerging Dolphins Eliza King 2:00.45 Michaela Ryan 1:59.06 and Abbey Webb 2:01.63.
Lani added number two on Saturday night in another personal best in the 400m before anchoring the young Dolphins to silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Her gold in the 400m freestyle also came in a new personal best of 4:07.76 (28.61; 59.52; 2:02.66; 3:06.76 – the last 100m in 61.00 seconds and the last 50m in 29.87) winning impressively by three seconds – and a time also surpassing her mum’s 1988 best time in the lead up to the Seoul Olympics.
The star-studded USA won the gold in 3:40.10 – just holding on to the fast finishing Australians who were second in 3:41.51 (Eliza King 55.52; Abbey Webb 55.39; Natasha Ramsden 55.52 and Pallister’s 55.08).
She wasted no time at all showing a clean pair of heals in her all-the way victory in the 1500m freestyle – the newest event on the Olympic program for Tokyo.
The tear away Sunshine Coaster finished the meet with three gold and three silver medals from six swims – all in personal best times - and winning medals across 100m (relay), 200, 400, 800 and 1500m - a rare feat in itself.
She now joins one of the most exciting groups of middle-distance and distance freestylers Australia has produced since the days that her mum Janelle Elford, Julie McDonald, Sheridan Burge-Lopez and a young Hayley Lewis ruled the pool in the late 1980s and 1990 when Lewis won five gold at the Auckland Commonwealth Games at just 15.
The current crop of young Aussies are being led by Commonwealth Games golden girl; latest Australian and Commonwealth record holder Titmus – who at just 17 showed why she will be a major medal contender for Tokyo with her double silver behind US super star Katie Ledecky over 400 and 800 and including fellow Pan Pac stars Melverton, Lee and Gough.
Add Lani Pallister into the mix and the next two years is sure to bring out the best in the girls as they all push for spots on the Olympic team.
Australian Head Coach Glenn Beringen said you can’t underestimate the value of repeat exposures for young athletes to high level international competition as a key ingredient to their long-term development.
“With 75 percent of the team competing for the first time on the international stage, we must be patient and ensure they and we learn from their experiences,” said Beringen.
“We need to take the necessary steps to ensure they can progress from multiple international exposures similar to Lani Pallister at this meet and our Australian Dolphins at the Senior Pan Pacs - Ariarne Titmus, Jack Cartwright, Kaylee McKeown, Matt Wilson, Laura Taylor, Bradley Woodward and Elijah Winnington,” Beringen said.
“Lani’s performances were certainly significant and illustrates not only the importance of international competition but the educational experiences introduced through the Swimming Australia Pathway programs.
“It is important for athletes and coaches alike to learn and understand what is required to be successful at an international level.
“Lani (who was a member of the Australian Team at the 2017 Junior World Championships in Indianapolis) in particular has demonstrated the benefits of that experience and was able to practically apply these skills and knowledge in her successful 2018 Junior Pan Pacific campaign.
“We saw a more complete, calm and resolute athlete this year with Lani.
“Overall we swam some very closes races with the USA and medalled in all of the freestyle relays which is encouraging leading into 2020 and beyond.”
Beringen said when challenged to perform at a consistently high standard, the team responded.