Max powering towards Dolphins dream

Published 6:00am 13 May 2024

Max powering towards Dolphins dream
Words by Nick Crockford

Max Cunningham, who learned to swim at Grace Swimming Club, will next month line up alongside Australia’s sporting superstars.

The 14-year-old has qualified - with times set last year and bettered last month - for the Olympic Trials, in Brisbane, for places at the Paris Games.

While the Trials may be more about experience for the North Lakes resident, it is another sizeable step towards his dream, the Australian Dolphins team.

“The plan is to train for the Olympic Trials, break for a month or so before starting again,” said Max, who is now at Churchie.

His immediate targets will then be short course meetings building towards the Queensland Championships in December.

Max powering towards Dolphins dream

Longer-term, Max is in the state’s Talent Identification Development Squad, which is a pathway to such as the New Zealand Short Course Championship, Junior Pan Pacific Games and Junior World Championships.

It is a far cry from the day he started in Grace’s Learn to Swim program, at the age of four, “just for water safety” reasons!

But, moving through the levels, staff at the Rothwell pool soon spotted his potential.

Max entered club night races, then outside meets. With his first squad coach Richard Duyzer, he made regional teams and at the age of 10, Queensland School Sports.

After eight years at Grace, Max moved to Churchie in Brisbane to join head coach Richard Sleight, who moved from the world-renowned St Peter’s Western performance hub.

Max powering towards Dolphins dream
Max Cunningham with Churchie Head Coach Richard Sleight

The switch paid off for Max. Last year he was named Brisbane’s Junior Swimmer of the Year and at December’s state titles was Age Champion for 14-year-old boys.

That was followed by a stunning debut at the Australia Age Championships last month where he won eight medals (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) and smashed a national record.

Max was top ranked in four of his six age-group events, entering the championships, but admitted: “I would have been happy with a 50 per cent gold strike rate.

“I was a little surprised missing gold in the 50m and 100m free(style) but thinking about it, this was my first age nationals and I had no idea what I could achieve.

“I knew my coach Richard and I had done everything we could to prepare – and every swimmer there could pull out personal best times.”

Max powering towards Dolphins dream

However, the Australian 14 Year Boys 50m butterfly record was a “massive surprise” as Max’s reaction on the 9Now broadcast revealed.

He stopped the clock at 24.97 seconds, beating the 2013 record, set by Kyle Chalmers, now a World, Olympic and Commonwealth champion, by 0.27 of a second.

Max is also the youngest male swimmer in Australia to break 25 seconds for 50m butterfly.

“I knew I would be close to the time,” he said, “a low 25 seconds would have been good. At no point did I aim to go sub 25 seconds!”

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