Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi Lewis Clareburt shatters NZ record to win national title

Kiwi swimmer Lewis Clareburt is hitting form at the right time leading into the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold and breaking a New Zealand record in the 400m individual medley in Auckland.

Clareburt, 21, swam 4m 09.87s at the national championships, beating his previous record by more than two seconds.

The Wellingtonian set the previous mark of 4m 12.07s while claiming the bronze medal at the 2019 FINA World Championships in South Korea.

"It felt pretty nice," he has told Newshub. "All my splits were pretty on, so can't complain.

"You don't really know how you're swimming throughout the race. It felt nice, but I thought it was too easy for what it was.

"When I turned around to look at the board, there was nothing there - the board was broken - but when they announced the time, it was pretty sweet." 

Clareburt's time was almost six seconds faster than the Olympic standard of 4m 15.84s and nine seconds ahead of second-placed Luan Grobbelaar.

This year, his performance trails only Daiya Seto of Japan, who swam 4m 09.02s just days ago. 

Clareburt looms as New Zealand's brightest hope of a swimming medal at Tokyo later this year, after winning bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and world championships the following year. 

"It's been such a crazy year, I honestly had no idea where I was at. I've had the most time off in my whole life, and to get some good training in the end of last year and the beginning of this year has really paid off. It all just came together.

"It's surprising. You never think that having so much time off could pay off like that. It's pretty surreal, but I know, come Tokyo, I'll have to go faster if I want to get near a medal."

New Zealand's last Olympic swimming medal came back in 1996, when Danyon Loader claimed gold in the 400m freestyle, as well as the 200m freestyle in Atlanta.

Elsewhere, Taranaki's Zac Reid won the men's 800m freestyle title and Auckland's Haley McIntosh won the women's 1500m freestyle.

Gina McCarthy, 18, of Hamilton won gold in the women's 400m individual medley.