AUSTRALIA'S new distance star Chelsea Gubecka has been compared to the legendary Tracey Wickham as the teen sensation prepares to take on the world.
The Mountain Creek 14-year-old's breakthrough year got a whole lot bigger last week when she won the national 1500m title - and in doing so was labelled a potential great.
Her time of 16:22.35sec compares favourably to the then-world record time of 16:14.93 that Wickham set in a solo swim in Brisbane as a 15-year-old in 1978.
Slashing seven seconds off your personal best in the 1500m can be easily achieved - Gubecka bettered her PB by 22 seconds in the final - and she may have to better Wickham's time to medal at this year's world championships in Barcelona.
It is thought her 1500m time is the quickest ever by a 14-year-old Australian but that is yet to be confirmed, though she was four seconds under FINA's A-qualifying time for Barcelona.
Coast-based swim coach and 1988 Seoul Olympian Janelle Pallister (nee Elford) has mentored Gubecka and has no problem mentioning her and Wickham in the same breath.
Pallister - the holder of the fourth-fastest 800m time ever for an Australia (Wickham has the fastest) - said Gubecka had the talent and drive to become one of the best ever.
"I don't know if it is too unfair (too compare her to Wickham) but I'm sure Chelsea would be striving to be as good if not better (than Wickham)," she said.
"If determination is any kind of guide, then she can possibly be one of the best Australia's had. She's a very determined young lady."
Gubecka travelled to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra following the nationals, and will return to the Coast on Thursday to begin strength and conditioning training for the first time in her life.
After beating dual-Olympian Melissa Gorman to claim the national 10km open water title in February, she received a Queensland Academy of Sport scholarship that will cover the cost of a personal trainer.
She will also compete in the 10km at the worlds.
The prospect of her getting considerably stronger excites her father, Serg.
He said: "They're (QAS) giving her everything and anything that's going to help her achieve a medal at the world championships."
Gubecka's coach, Barry Kime, said he had never seen a distance swimmer quicker than Gubecka at her age.
However, he downplayed comparisons to Wickham.
He said: "She's (Wickham) done it," he said.
"She's a true icon of the sport. That's something to aspire to, but she's (Gubecka) not there yet."
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