How Lewis Clareburt overcame health woes to win three Commonwealth Games medals

Three Commonwealth Games medals – including two gold – looked a hugely unlikely return for a sickly Lewis Clareburt a few months back.

The New Zealander grabbed his third swimming gong on Thursday morning (NZ time) when he won bronze behind Duncan Scott (Scotland) and Tom Dean (England) in the men’s 200m individual medley.

Scott led from start to finish to win in a Games record time of 1:56:88.

Dean was only 0.13s behind while Clareburt was just outside his New Zealand record with a time of 1:57:59.

Clareburt’s latest medal added to his two Birmingham golds in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley.

But the 23-year-old from Wellington first had to conquer Covid in May, his painful wisdom teeth and food poisoning.

“I think Covid came first – we took a very cautious approach,” Clareburt’s coach Gary Hollywood said this week as his charge emerged as one of the meet’s stars after hinting further at his potential at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Lewis Clareburt of New Zealand collected his third medal in the men's 200m individual medley at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Lewis Clareburt of New Zealand collected his third medal in the men’s 200m individual medley at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“I had heard some nations were kinda demanding the kids pretty much keep training.

“We probably spent maybe a week longer than we needed to in terms of taking it easy, but we just brought him back slowly – and High Performance Sport NZ gave us some really good guidelines for that.

“We were quite strict on our protocols and worked on the process that rest was best. I think seeing some of the nations perform, maybe we did something right there.

“Then he said ‘now’s probably the best time to get my wisdom teeth out’. In the past it’s given him a bit of bother when we’re away.”

Lewis Clareburt celebrates after winning gold in the men's 200m butterfly final on day three.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Lewis Clareburt celebrates after winning gold in the men’s 200m butterfly final on day three.

Once the troublesome teeth were gone, Clareburt headed offshore to prepare for the world championships and Commonwealth Games, only to suffer food poisoning at a training camp in Slovakia.

”I feel for six weeks we were constrained – and then I was concerned that worlds was right in the middle of three weeks of quality training,” Hollywood said.

”For us, Commonwealth Games was the priority – that’s the pinnacle meet, worlds was kinda stuck in the middle at the last minute.”

Clareburt finished fourth in his specialist 400m individual medley final at the world champs in Budapest, Hungary, in June in a time of 4:10.98 – 6.70s back from French gold medallist Leon Marchand.

“The worlds was very much a mental swim – he used his mental energy to race that, and a 4:10 was a huge result for us,” Hollywood said.

Clareburt’s winning 400IM time in Birmingham was 4:08.70, more than two seconds quicker and a Games record.

A key part of Clareburt’s recovery and resurgence after the world champs was four weeks of training outdoors in Majorca.

“He loves the heat, he was so happy to be there,” Hollywood said.

Clareburt told Sky Sport of his medal collection in Birmingham: “It’s been a dream come true. This is what I dreamed of when I was young – getting medals on a world stage. I feel like I’ve made that come true.”

New Zealand's Lewis Clareburt poses for the media with his gold medal for winning the men's 200m butterfly.

Aijaz Rahi/AP

New Zealand’s Lewis Clareburt poses for the media with his gold medal for winning the men’s 200m butterfly.

He said he was driven to perform and to improve.

“I guess there’s an inner devil in me that hates losing. I love beating people that are better than me.”

Hollywood, who makes no secret of his belief Clareburt could be the world’s best, was just delighted to see his charge fit and firing.

“We’ve been in lockdown and not been able to race – and he’s a racer.”

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