Teen flourishes in two sports

Although Phoebe McKnight is best known as a hugely promising runner, she also competes at a national level in swimming.

Not many girls can say they have won a national medal in two different sports in the same season.

Phoebe McKnight, from Hutt Valley Harriers, can.

At her first national cross country championships, held in Dunedin on June 20, the Hutt Valley High student was the sole Wellingtonian of any age to take out a title. She won the year 9 girls National Secondary Schools 3km event in a time that would have won her the silver medal in the year 10 race.

The lead changed several times between Phoebe, 13, and Liliana Braun, 13, from Christchurch, but McKnight was able to head off Braun in a 200m sprint to the finish line.

It wasn’t what she expected.

‘‘No, not really. It went well but I knew there was some tough competition,’’ she said.

That title followed Phoebe’s first swimming medal when she took bronze at the National Age Group Swimming Championships in the demanding 200m butterfly event in Wellington in March.

‘‘It was pretty surprising,’’ she said. ‘‘I was happy for a top three and a PB (personal best).’’ For McKnight, swimming and athletics are complementary. She started both aged 10, and is a Wellington cross country and track champion – competing in the 1500m and 3000m – and a double North lsland cross country champion. She has yet to compete at a national track competition, as the National Track and Field Champs are held close to the time of the swimming nationals.

While swimming training is more demanding and timeconsuming, her long term future in athletics looks more promising, as she eyes a world junior track qualifying time.

While she is some way off these qualifying times, at four minutes 30 seconds and 9 minutes 40 seconds for the 1500m and 3000m, she has age on her side. She is only 20 seconds shy in the 1500m and 40 seconds in the 3000m.

Long-term, Phoebe would love to compete overseas, especially for her country, but as she excels in and enjoys both sports equally, she is unsure which one will prevail.

‘‘It will have to be the one I enjoy the most. I couldn’t imagine myself not doing [both]’’.

Frank Tourelle has a lot of admiration for Phoebe McKnight and reckons she is a pretty special athlete.

As her swim coach, he is in a good position to judge her as an athlete and he says she is all class.

Competitive swimming involves endless hours of training and standing out is not easy.

When Phoebe joined his group of up and coming swimmers, her impact was immediate.

‘‘She is an asset to our squad because she lifts our game.

The other girls have had to respond to the level that Phoebe has reached. She is unrelenting every time she trains . . . she really lifts the standard when she is here.’’ There are number of top runners in his squad beside Phoebe, including Lucy England and Ruby Heath.

Running and swimming seems to complement each other and both require high levels of aerobic fitness.

Both also require a lot of commitment and he does not know how Phoebe finds the time.

‘‘I marvel at her time management skills. To do school, swimming and athletics, and be disciplined to do all three to a high standard, that takes a lot of commitment.’’