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Olympic swimmer returns to Castlebar


THE MIGHTY QUINN Castlebar swimmer Nicholas Quinn pictured at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin. Pic: Sportsfile

Olympic swimmer Nicholas Quinn returns to Castlebar

Daniel Carey

DEPENDING on the day, Nicholas Quinn’s alarm clock goes off between 4.50 and 5.10am. He’s in the swimming pool for 5.15 or 5.30 for a session of two or two and a half hours where he swims about six kilometres. Four times a week, he goes straight from the pool to the gym for a 90-minute session (‘strength or explosive stuff’). He gets food, goes back to bed for some rest, gets up, has more food, then does another two-hour session in the pool in the afternoon. The evenings are when he gets his ‘real quality work in’, and he has dinner, chills out, and heads to bed early. He tries to get to bed at 9pm and be asleep by 9.30. Seven and a half hours later, the alarm goes off again.
Last Thursday was a little bit different. His first visit to Castlebar since qualifying for next month’s Olympic Games began with a flight from Edinburgh, where he’s based, to Ireland West Airport Knock. His aunts and cousins were on hand to greet him there, as were a TV crew doing a documentary on the airport for UTV Ireland. He was stopped ‘a few times’ en route from the airport to the county time. At the TF Royal Hotel, friends, fellow swimmers and local councillors were on hand to greet him. He was taken aback, and clearly touched, by the welcome he received.
“It was just surprise after surprise,” he told The Mayo News with a smile. “But it was great to see it. I haven’t been back in Castlebar since I qualified, so I’d no idea what to expect. But I really appreciate it. It was awful good of everyone to come out.”
His first trip to Mayo since last Christmas was a ‘flying visit’. By Friday, he was in Dublin to meet the Olympic Council of Ireland and collect his kit, and was back in Edinburgh by Saturday. On Monday week, he’ll fly out to Uberlândia, an hour’s flight from Rio, where he’ll be training before heading for the Olympic village on Tuesday, August 2. The opening ceremony follows three days later, and Quinn will be in the pool on Saturday, August 6 for the 100 metres breaststroke, before his main event – the 200 metres breaststroke – follows on Tuesday, August 9.
The 23-year-old booked his place on the plane to Rio by swimming an impressive 2:11.24 in the 200 metres breaststroke in Eindhoven last April, almost half a second under the qualification time of 2:11:66. It was almost two seconds faster than his previous personal best of 2:13.04. He’s been hard at work since.
“After resting, I had to build back up my aerobic fitness and general fitness, but a lot of the focus has been on my race tactics and how I want to swim it, and training to replicate that as much as I can, and focusing on my skills,” he told The Mayo News last Thursday. “My skills would be my turns and my starts and my dives and break-outs, so [I’m] making them as tight and as fast and as quick as I can, because over 200 metres, they all add up. It’s small margins I’m looking at now. I’m working on all the small details.”
He’ll be joined in Rio by his parents, sister, brother and girlfriend, and might also be joined by his cousin and her husband. His father John and mother Mary are based in Strasbourg, and were in the Netherlands on the night when he qualified (“The first thing I wanted to do was find them in the stands, because there’s no way I would have done anything like them without them,” he recalls). Among the welcoming party for last Thursday’s get-together was Marian English, a coach at Castlebar Swimming Club, who watched him qualifying via the wonders of live-streaming, and spoke to him shortly afterwards after calling his current coach, Edinburgh-based Chris Jones.
“It’s a team,” he reflects. “You can’t get success without having a team, and I had the best team I could have hoped for, in Castlebar and in Edinburgh. It’s an individual sport, but you can’t do it on your own.”
A psychology student at the University of Edinburgh, the young Sarnaught star deferred the final part of his studies to make his Olympic dream a reality. He’s been busy since achieving the qualification time. He raced in Glasgow (an event that took in the British trials for the Olympics), took part in the European Championships in London (where he was ‘pretty happy’ with how he performed given that he was in hard training at the time), and had a two-week training camp in Barcelona.
In a game where tiny margins separate success and failure, has he a target in mind for the Olympics? What would constitute success in Rio?
“I’m focusing on all the little things,” he begins. “So the first thing – and the most important thing for me – is that I have to go out and perform at my best. I did a massive PB [personal best] to qualify in Eindhoven, and I know I need to try and be faster than that again. I think that there’s things I can work on that I can be [faster], and I know if I do a PB from what I did in Eindhoven, then I’ll put myself in a good enough position to maybe get a second swim, into a semi-final.
“I haven’t been, but from what I hear, people find it hard to peak perform at the Olympics, because there’s so much happening. So that’s my main focus now. And I know if I can peak perform, then I’ll put myself in a good position to get a second swim, and then we’ll just take it from there.”

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