Biography

Anna Simcic was born in Austria in 1971, but her family moved to New Zealander when she was one. She burst into national prominence as a brilliant young swimmer while a schoolgirl at Linwood High, Christchurch, nearly making the 1988 team for the Seoul Olympics. “I was very late starting swimming compared to these days and it was never a huge ambition for me,” she said. “It started to evolve, though, as I got better and started making a few squads and started training in the mornings, but it wasn't really until I missed out on Seoul by 0.2 seconds and was devastated that I thought it was really something I want to try to do. “My coach [former Olympian Brett Naylor] was telling me how much I would have loved it over there [Seoul] and I guess that's when I started getting serious about swimming.” At the national championships in early 1989, Simcic caused a sensation when she won nine New Zealand titles. At the age of 17 she became the golden girl of New Zealand swimming. It was a crown she was to wear for the next seven years. Simcic became renowned as a world-class backstroke swimmer, but at those national championships she won not only three backstroke titles, but two in butterfly and three in relays, including two in freestyle relays. By 1990, she was one of the big hopes of the New Zealand swim team for the Auckland Commonwealth Games. There she had two fantastic battles with a tough Australian, Nicole Livingstone, being edged out in the 100m backstroke, 1min 02.46s to 1min 02.55s (a personal best), but then, full of determination, winning the 200m gold. The pair swam stroke for stroke in the 200m, but the New Zealander finished stronger, winning in 2min 12.32s, 0.3s ahead of Livingstone. Simcic was also part of the New Zealand 100m medley relay team that finished fourth in Auckland. Perhaps the finest day of her career was at the world short-course championships in Paris, France in 1992, when she won the 200m and set a world record of 2min 7.11s in the process. The victory was a double-edged sword. The spotlight on her in the lead-up to the Barcelona Olympics that year grew much brighter. In the end she finished fifth in the Olympic final that year. Normally a New Zealander finishing fifth in an Olympic final would be regarded as an exceptional performance, but Anna was shattered because she’d worked so hard in training and regarded herself as a strong medal chance. The race was won by Hungarian super swimmer Krisztina Egerszegi in 2min 07.06s and Simcic was outside her best time with 2min 11.93s. “The 92 Olympics really sucked. I had trained so hard and broke the short course world record early in the year, but got sick when we were training at altitude just before the Games. “I had an ear infection and couldn't shake it off in time. It was really, really devastating. Not that I didn't win, but that I didn't swim as fast as I was capable of. I didn't want to use it as an excuse at the time, but I had a doctor poking around in my ear before the race, telling me I couldn't swim and I was telling him that, ‘Yes, I am swimming!’” After that she remained a strong member of a fine New Zealand swim squad for another four years. She took silver behind Nicole Stevenson (formerly Livingstone) in the 200m at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, though her time was a sluggish 2min 13.94s, and was fifth in the 100m final in 1min 03.91s. She rounded out her career with a sixth placing in a slow Olympic 200m final at Atlanta in 1996. Egerszegi again won and Simcic was timed at 2min 14.04s. Ironically, her Barcelona time would have won her a medal in Atlanta. By then she’d had a long career for a swimmer, getting up before 5am, doing sit-ups outside the pool while she waited in the dark for it to be opened, spending four hours a day in the water, plus several weights sessions and some running. It was time to move on to a new chapter in her life – marriage, three children and success in business, part-owning several South Island petrol stations. Simcic later became a life adviser for athletes involved with New Zealand High Performance Sport and also took on a mentoring role during the career of Christchurch Paralympian Sophie Pascoe.