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A rejuvenated Corney Swanepoel set the pool alight in a brilliant battle on the first night of finals at the New Zealand swimming championships in Christchurch tonight.
The 23-year-old from Swimming New Zealand's international training centre went under his own national record to beat off fellow Beijing Olympians Moss Burmester and Daniel Bell at the QE2 Leisure Centre.
The meet doubles as the official trial for July's world championships in Rome with swimmers having to meet the new tough FINA 900-point mark.
Swanepoel, Burmester and Bell all achieved the qualifying mark and set new personal bests, but with a limit of two swimmers per event, Bell missed out on qualifying for Rome.
Bell, 18, later broke his own New Zealand record to retain his title in the 50m backstroke.
As it is a non-Olympic event he had to meet a 1000-point qualifying target and was just short.
But if he qualifies for the world championships later in the meet, he can swim the 50m backstroke as a second event.
Also through to the world championships is Beijing Olympic semifinalist Glenn Snyders, who broke his own national record in the heats this morning.
He was marginally slower tonight winning in one minute 00.57 second, but pleasingly has produced the second and fifth fastest times in the world this year.
Swanepoel was thrilled with his win after a superbly timed performance, turning in 24 seconds and powering home impressively in 51.61sec with Burmester an encouraging 51.99sec in second with Bell third in 52.28sec.
"I had done absolutely no fly until five weeks ago. For the last five years I have been concentrating on the 100m butterfly race so it can get a bit much after all that time," Swanepoel said.
"So I wanted to refresh myself and basically with my coach Thomas Ansorg we have changed just about everything.
"As well as doing more freestyle we have done less mileage and more power stuff. Mentally it's really refreshing.
"When you do something new there's an element of risk so I was a bit nervous tonight.
"It's exciting to get this result. Now I can go back and work in this, do some hard work to help with the back end of the race. I am pretty excited about this swim."
Swanepoel said he was also encouraged by the level of competition in the butterfly.
" To have all three of us go under the qualifying mark shows you the level of competition. That has got to be good for all of us."
Snyders surprised himself with his New Zealand record in the heats this morning but was more subdued despite his world championship qualifying performance tonight.
He had a recurrence of a troublesome knee injury during the race but is hopeful it will not prevent from continuing in the championships.
He went out strongly, coming home in 1min 00.57sec after clocking a record 1min 00.17sec in the morning heats.
"This morning felt great. I felt happier with my performance this morning. Tonight seemed a bit more rushed. I wanted to go faster but I should have planned my race better," Snyders said.
"It was still a good time, my third fastest ever so I can't complain too much. I know my knee is hurting quite a bit which is frustrating because I had hoped we were over the worst of it."
In other finals, North Shore's Emily Thomas retained her 50m backstroke title in 29.10sec, Athens Olympian Annabelle Carey (Jasi) won the 100m breaststroke, US-based Kane Radford (Aquatix, Rotorua) took out the 800m freestyle, 16-year-old Ellen Quirke (Capital) claimed the 100m butterfly, while Taranaki's Charlotte Webby retained her 1500m freestyle title.
The championships continue until Sunday.
Results today from the first day of finals at the New Zealand swimming championships Christchurch tonight:
50m backstroke: Daniel Bell 25.24 1 (NZ Record) 1; John Gatfield (SwimZone Wgtn) 26.11 2; Gareth Kean (Capital) 26.25 3.
100m butterfly: Corney Swanepoel (international training centre - North Shore) 51.61sec 1 (NZ record, world championships qualifier); Moss Burmester (ITC) 51.99 2 (world champs qualifier); Daniel Bell (West Auckland Aquatics) 52.28 3.
100m breaststroke: Glenn Snyders (ITC) 1:00.57 1 (world champs qualifier); Nicholas Ferrif (North Shore) 1:02.92 2; Starn Simpson (West Auckland Aquatics) 1:04.16 3.
400m freestyle relay: Auckland 3:26.47 1; Wellington 3:34.01 2; Canterbury 3:35.73 3.
800m freestyle: Kane Radford (Aquatx Rotorua) 8:09.59 1; Dylan Dunlop-Barrett (Bell Block Taranaki) 8:09.78 2; Daniel Ryan (Waterhole Auckland) 8:17.72 3.
50m backstroke: Emily Thomas (North Shore) 29.10 1; Natalie Wiegersma 29.79 2; Melissa Ingram (North Shore) and Jessie Blundell (North Shore) 29.92 equal 3.
100m butterfly: Ellen Quirke (Capital, Wellington) 1min 00.91sec 1; Natalie Wiegersma (Waverley Southland) 1:00.98 2; Samantha Lee (Capital) 1:01.06 3.
100m breaststroke: Annabelle Carey (Jasi Canterbury) 1:09.86 1; Katie Kenneally (Neptune Otago) 1:11.65 2; Chloe Francis (North Shore) 1:12.44 3.
400m freestyle relay: Canterbury 3:57.29 1; Auckland 3:58.44 2; Wellington 3:58.95 3.
1500m freestyle: Charlotte Webby (Bell Block) 17:00.95 1; Bridget Maher (Kiwi West Manawatu) 17:41.23 2; Kendall Davison (Bell Block) 18:39.22 3.