Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi swim sensation turned viral TikTok star Lewis Clareburt out to prove medal worth at Games

If you needed a gauge on just how relaxed Kiwi swimmer Lewis Clareburt is leading into his Olympic debut, take a look at his casual approach to Wednesday's press conference in Tokyo.

Phone out, Clareburt was more concerned by his recent achievements on TikTok, where his videos of the athlete's village experiences have garnered plenty of attention.

"I hit a million views just before," Clareburt points out, referring to his video of teammate Ali Galyer struggling with the notorious cardboard beds.

"We're doing something that you know is making us have a bit of a laugh. It definitely distracts you from what you're here to do."

But don't be fooled by the new-found social media fame, the 22-year-old is on a mission.

"I think about it everyday, trying to win a medal," he says. "You dream about standing on the podium and standing next to the best swimmers in the world and hopefully being one of them."

In the past, that outlook has been at odds with his sport’s governing body.

Two years ago, Swimming New Zealand told Newshub it didn't see Tokyo as a genuine medal opportunity, and were instead focussing on Paris 2024. 

"We're not showing any evidence we're gonna win medals in 2020," it said.

Clareburt's out to prove Swimming NZ's prior lack of faith was misplaced.

In the last two years alone, he's shaved nine seconds off his time, obliterating the NZ record along the way.

"The biggest thing for me is improving that time and if I can lower that time, to make it as fast as I can," says Clareburt.  "Then, I think the medals will come."

Coach Gary Hollywood adds: "He's 10 out of 10 mentally and 10 out of 10 physically".

In 2019, Clareburt's chances were laid bare, when he won bronze at the World Champs.

He's already taken three seconds off that time and coach Gary Hollywood doesn't see his star pupil stopping there.

"Everything we do in training is based around what the world record is and what we have to do to shoot for the world record," says Hollywood.

Clareburt weighs in: "It's that motivation to swim well and swim faster and continually improve."

New Zealand hasn't won a swimming medal since Danyon Loader in 1996 and Clareburt has all the ingredients to end a long hiatus from the podium, confident that, if the stars align in Tokyo, he has as good a chance as any of taking home a medal.

"If I can get myself into the final I think anything's possible, a medal could definitely be on the table," he says.

"Being from New Zealand, we don't really get a whole huge crowd. So we probably got a bit of an advantage compared to the rest of the world.

"By the time I go out on that block, you know, I'm ready to get angry and ready to bust it out and go fast."

Join us at 11:30pm, Wednesday for live updates of Football Ferns v Australia at the Tokyo Olympics