ACT's Zhang set for Rio
Fourteen-year-old Bonnie Zhang, pictured at the AIS pool, won ACT female swimmer of the year and has been chosen in Australian trans-Tasman squad. Photo: Melissa Adams
Aged just 14, Bonnie Zhang is the highest ranked female in the ACT in all freestyle distances from 50 metres to 800 metres.
It's a feat that has not been overlooked, with Zhang being awarded the Joan Kellett Trophy on Saturday, as the outstanding female ACT swimmer of any age in the past year.
The award was the culmination of a year of achievements in which the teenager won silver medals at the National Age Championships in the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle, and last week was selected for the Australian Trans Tasman team, a national youth squad which will compete against New Zealand in July.
Zhang trains seven or eight times each week under Steve Meredith in the Australian Sports Commission program at the Australian Institute of Sport, where she learnt to swim before moving into competitive swimming.
While she trains in a different pool to the Institute's Olympic swimmers, Zhang has caught the eye of AIS head coach Shannon Rollason which could see Meredith lose the star of his squad.
Meredith said Zhang had the talent to go as far as she wanted with the sport, with the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016 a possibility.
''I kinda want to go to the Olympics,'' Zhang said modestly, living up to Meredith's description of her as ''quietly ambitious''.
''She's quietly determined, and I think she's quite keen to see how far she can go,'' Meredith said. ''I think she has the potential to represent Australia at the senior level.''
The 162-centimetre Zhang is smaller than most swimmers her age, but ''she has an outstanding feel for the water and very high skill level,'' according to Meredith.
He also points out that it's only through her dedication, effort and attention to detail that she manages to makes swimming look so easy.
The hard part might be choosing an event to specialise in, with Zhang competing in all the freestyle events, from 50m through to 800m.
''She [Zhang] has outstanding speed, but she also has outstanding endurance,'' Meredith said, with only her size limiting her in the more explosive 50m event against bigger competitors.
For the moment, Zhang is taking her time in the sport, and enjoying the social side.
''I really like just going to training and seeing all my friends - it's kind of another social event outside of school,'' the Year 9 student said. ''School always comes first before training. Usually I manage it pretty well, except during exam times, I don't do as many [training] sessions as I'd usually do.''
For Meredith, Zhang's patience with her swimming is the thing he likes most about coaching her.
''She understands the need to develop her skills over a number of years and to manage her development so she peaks at a more mature age,'' he said.
Canberrans Hugo Morris and Sean Maloney, both of Woden Swim Club, have also been selected in the national squads to compete at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.