NPD Spice Recalls ‘Breathtaking’ O’Connor Swim In Rio & Cautions About The Big Fish

Siobhan O'Connor; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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There was unbridled joy and excitement on Tuesday as 28 swimmers were officially named on Team GB for the Tokyo Olympics.

A further 24 swimmers earned their places following the trials in London to join the quartet of Adam Peaty, Duncan Scott, Luke Greenbank and James Wilby who were pre-selected by virtue of their medal-winning performances at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.

Britain came away from Rio with six medals thanks to Peaty’s 100br gold and silver from the men’s 4×100 medley and 4×200 free relays.

Jazz Carlin won silver in the 400 and 800 free with Siobhan O’Connor also making a trip to the second step of the podium in the 200IM.

Neither woman will be in Tokyo. Carlin retired in February 2019 and O’Connor’s training had been so disrupted by ulcerative colitis that she was unable to compete at trials where Abbie Wood and Alicia Wilson claimed the 200IM berths.

O’Connor And Success In The Hardest Of Circumstances

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (photo: Mike Lewis)

Siobhan O’Connor; Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS

O’Connor has lived with ulcerative colitis since 2011 when she first began to feel unwell following her return from the Shanghai World Championships where she made her senior international debut aged 15.

She had uncontrolled diarrhoea – going to the toilet up to 20 times a day – intense fatigue, excruciating stomach pain and extreme soreness in her joints.

Her sight was also affected and she would wake up each morning with blurred vision.

Ulcerative colitis can flare up without warning at any time and has severely impacted O’Connor’s ability to train and by extension, her competition.

Against this backdrop O’Connor continued to negotiate international waters and by the time she got to Rio, she had Commonwealth and European titles and world medals.

She had enjoyed the longest unbroken spell of training in her career and the time and space that had given her to hone the training programme designed by her then coach Dave McNulty at Bath to nigh-on perfection all came together on 9 August 2016.

At the Aquatics Stadium that night, O’Connor closed with every stroke down the last 25 on eventual winner Katinka Hosszu, as she touched second in 2:06.88, 0.30 off the Hungarian.

She became only the third woman in history to dip inside 2:07 in the event after Ariana Kukors in a shiny suit in 2009 and world-record holder Hosszu.

O’Connor, who now trains at Loughborough with Dave Hemmings, announced earlier this month that she will decide on her “next steps”.

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

On the day of such happiness for those named on the squad, national performance director Chris Spice spoke of O’Connor, saying:

“It’s incredibly sad for Siobhan that she’s been ill and wasn’t able to prepare for trials at all and we feel for her.

“She did such an outstanding job in Rio: to push Hosszu to that point. For me that was up there with Adam’s swim. It was so breathtaking.

“We were all screaming our lungs out on that last 50 metres but we didn’t quite get her over the line but it was a sensational swim.”

Given O’Connor’s training in and out of the pool has been so impacted over the years, can her outcome in Rio be held up as a shining example of what can be achieved with a small window of opportunity?

Spice concurred, saying:

“It’s amazing what we can do with short preparation and I think one of the things that lockdown has taught us  is that we might just be preparing our athletes slightly differently rather than the heavy volumes that we are used to in the pool all the time.

“There’s a way to keep fit and strong and work on their technique that can assist with what is going on in the pool.

“I think we’ll look back on this time and really evaluate how we prepare swimmers in the future, definitely.”

Peaty And Scott React While Spice Points To The Big Fish

Peaty – who will become the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title if he retains his 100br gold – did two 57s in one day in London while no other man has yet broken the 58-second barrier.

The eight-time world champion is now the owner of the top 20 performances in history and of what his mission in Tokyo will be, Peaty said:


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

“For me, without wanting to go too deep into it, it’s to reinstate the gold medal. I’d be lying if I didn’t want to go there and defend – or attack as I call it.

“I want to go out there with my best performance and to get to that equals getting the right mindset, the nerves, the enjoyment, the thrill of it, the enjoyment.

“I want to go out there, enjoy the process of going for an Olympics which is an incredible process and hopefully give the performance the country deserves and the world deserves after going through so much rubbish with Covid-19 and a lot of negativity out there.

“Sport is one of the things which can inspire people and lift people up and I just want to reinstate that.”

Scott broke British records over 200IM and 200 free while matching his mark in the 100fr in London.

16th April 2021, London Aquatics Centre, London, England ; 2021 British Swimming Selection Trials

Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr

The University of Stirling swimmer said:

“It’s been a bit of a strange one obviously being pre-selected.

“But it makes it a lot more real being announced with the rest of the team and the three other athletes from Stirling (Ross Murdoch, Kathleen Dawson and Cassie Wild).

“It does make a bit more real with the trials happening as well so it is a real privilege to be selected.”

Molly Renshaw became the national 200br record-holder, Kathleen Dawson swam to within 0.12 of the European 100 back record and Joe and Max Litchfield became only the third British brothers to compete in the pool at the same Games.

Aimee Willmott booked a spot on her third Olympics in the 400IM, Ben Proud gave a sprinting demonstration and 16-year-old Jacob Whittle is the youngest on the team with Alys Thomas at 30 the oldest.

A team of which 70% are first-time Olympians and one with fine potential even prompting Chef de Mission Mark England to describe it as the strongest team to ever represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games. 

Spice though cautioned against getting too far ahead, pointing out that the big fish have yet to fully show.

He said:

“It’s hard to know because strongest is always a question in terms of compared to your opposition and unfortunately we don’t know exactly where all the opposition is right now.

“Australia and the US haven’t had to swim fast this year so in terms of comparing this team to previous teams it’s a strong team but in terms of it delivering something extraordinary in Tokyo, it’s probably a bit too early to tell.

“Until we see our major competitors – particularly the Chinese, Australians and the US – we don’t quite know where we are internationally but what I suspect, as we’ve seen with the Japanese and ourselves and the Russians, is that they will be moving it on as well as us.

“It’s definitely an exciting team and who knows? We’ll get in there and give it out best shot but we have got a great bunch of youngsters that have stuck their hand up in really difficult circumstances.

The pleasing thing for us was they almost raced without any fear in London and that is kind of the attitude we want going into Tokyo.”


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