She’s only 15, but Monique Wieruszowski, from the small Taranaki town of Inglewood, has put the swimming world on notice.
Last month she clocked a time just 1.3 seconds outside the 50m breaststroke world record and qualified for the world swimming championships in Japan in July.
Now she’s on track to break the world record in the event after lowering her time by 1.4 seconds since December.
A student at Inglewood High School, Wieruszowski spends her down time surfing and painting, but she always has that world record in the back of her mind.
She’s also qualified for the world junior championships, to be held in Israel in September.
Wieruszowski is setting records through lifetime bests at each major competition she swims at. She lowered her 50m national breaststroke record to 30.67 seconds at the national age group championships in Rotorua, just 12 days after setting it.
“It’s pretty cool to break that record twice in two weeks. I’m stoked,” she says. “I was psyched for that race, and everything went to plan.
“I felt really good before the race and there was no pressure on me because I’d already qualified for worlds, so it was all about having fun.”
She also broke a second national record, in 100m breaststroke, again qualifying for both world championships.
Wieruszowski’s lifetime best over the 50m distance has dropped two seconds in each of the past two years. At one point, her time was the eighth fastest in the world this year, before national competitions were held in other countries. Now ranked 16th this year, even a one second improvement will have her ninth fastest in the all-time rankings.
Due to her significant progress, both Wieruszowski and Mariano Nani, her coach at New Plymouth’s Aquabladz swimming club, know the world record is in sight.
“It’s crazy to think that she can break the world record,” Nani says. “When you put her under pressure, she will show you what potential she has.”
But it won’t happen in Japan; she’s not going.
Instead, the quietly spoken but fiercely determined Aquablack will focus on her search for gold medals at the world junior championships at the Wingate Institute in Netayna, Israel. Nani has also been named in the coaching team to go with her.
Wieruszowski then hopes to make her debut as an Aquablack at the 2024 world championships in Doha in February, and qualify in the 100m breaststroke for next year’s Paris Olympics. Nani is confident she’ll qualify and will also swim the 50m distance in Paris.
“She can achieve things on the world-class stage – she has self-drive and just wants to be the best. I also think she can definitely swim under 1:07.00 to qualify for Paris,” he says.
That’s one goal, but it’s not the only one. Wieruszowski hopes to break the 50m world record at those world championships: “That’s when I really think I could do it.”
Should she get a world top time, she will be the first New Zealander to break a world swimming record in an Olympic-sized pool.
While she’s the world’s fastest 15-year-old breaststroker, Wieruszowski turns 16 in July, just six weeks before competing in Israel. She’s also among the top-ranked breaststroke sprinters aged under 19.
Her 50m trials times were quicker than the last year’s world junior’s winning time; her 100m time was just 0.01s off the winner.
Should Wieruszowski touch the wall first in both events in Israel, she’ll be the first New Zealand female to hold two world junior titles in the same discipline in the same year. Both she and Nani are confident she could bring home a gold medal or two and then perform at a senior level.
“Following the pathway to a junior world stage, and then going to a senior stage with experience and getting into a semifinal or a final against the world’s top eight breaststrokers is something she definitely can do,” Nani says.
The talented young breaststroker clearly has huge potential, and like many top swimmers, she also gets top school grades, despite “not really” enjoying school. She finds school tiring between two daily swimming trainings, and often works ahead so she can take time off to swim at national events.
The most recent New Zealander to break a world swimming record was Lauren Boyle in the 1500m freestyle in Wellington in 2014. The first, and only other, was Danyon Loader in the 200m butterfly in 1993 and in the 400m freestyle two years later.
All those records were set in a short course pool. New Zealand’s top-ranked records since then are Lewis Clareburt’s 400m individual medley Commonwealth records in each of the past two years.
Wieruszowski was born in South Africa, as was New Zealand’s top ever male breaststroker, 2008 and 2012 Olympian Glenn Snyders. The country’s newest male Aquablack, medley swimmer Luan Grobbelaar, was born in South Africa too, and is also a top breaststroker.
After learning to swim at the age of three, Wieruszowski started competing four years later, winning all her school events. It was at that early stage she focused on breaststroke in the pool, while also playing rugby and hockey out of it.
“My teacher straight away said I had a talent for breaststroke – and I’ve just done that ever since. I just knew I had the passion to keep moving forward and doing better,” Wieruszowski says.
After moving with her family to New Zealand in 2016, she won a 50m breaststroke title at national age level in 2021, aged 13. But she was just short of the podium in the 100m event.
That’s when she realised she should take the sport seriously.
Her improvement since then has been rapid. She’s now quicker than everyone in Australia, Canada, and many other top swimming nations in the 50m breaststroke.
Nobody under 18 in Australia, one of the world’s top swimming nations, has ever clocked a time faster.
But it wasn’t until last year Wieruszowski thought she may have the potential to be a top swimmer, after her first national short course championship, “because I won my first open medal,” she says.
It wasn’t just an open medal – it was gold. Her 31.40 seconds effort in the 50m breaststroke was a World Aquatics B qualifying standard for the world short course championships, held in Melbourne last December.
While selected, she did not travel to Melbourne. Instead, she went to the Queensland championships that month, where she was the fastest of all ages, setting a 15-years allcomers record. A few months later, she broke her first national age group record.
She says her classmates at Inglewood High School are supportive and encouraging of her achievements.
“They’re really proud of me, they always congratulate me.”
It may not be too long before she’s back at school signing autographs.
Wieruszowski could swim a home Commonwealth Games in 2034 should New Zealand be successful with hosting rights – she turns 27 later that year.
*Other female swimmers named in the NZ team for world juniors are Milan Glintmeyer, Isabelle Gibson, Brooke Bennett, Zoe Pedersen, and Aquablack Summer Osborne.
Joining Osborne on the senior world championships team are Erika Fairweather, Eve Thomas, Hazel Ouwehand, Caitlin Deans, Chelsey Edwards, and Para swimmers Sophie Pascoe, Tupou Neiufi, Lili-Fox Mason, and Gabriella Smith.