Siobhan Haughey Claims First Olympic Swimming Medal in Hong Kong History

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Siobhan Bernadette Haughey (HKG) reacts after placing second in the women's 200m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

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Siobhan Haughey looked at the board and a huge smile opened up across her face.

She isn’t always the most outwardly emotional in the water, but this was a race like none other in her stellar career.

This one was historic.

Haughey finished second in the 200 freestyle to claim the first medal in Hong Kong swimming history.

Five years ago, Haughey was the second Hong Kong swimmer to ever reach an Olympic semifinals in Rio and she started to get unprecedented recognition in her country. Her goal was to be the first swimmer from Hong Kong to reach the finals at the Olympics.

She accomplished that after taking the seed in the semifinals. On to the finals, where Haughey led for the middle part of the race before Australia’s Ariarne Titmus continued her strong performances in Tokyo with a late burst of speed to earn gold in an Olympic record 1:53.50. Haughey won the silver medal in 1:53.92 — the only other swimmer to go sub-1:54 — ahead of Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, as Katie Ledecky finished fifth.

Haughey was all smiles as she exited the pool, basking in her best performance on the biggest stage, and as the magnitude of her accomplishment began to sink in, she was overcome with emotion.

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Siobhan Bernadette Haughey (HKG) with her silver medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 200m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Siobhan Haughey. Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher

It has been a long journey to this point.

In five years, Haughey went from being happy to make the team to an Olympic medalist.

After Rio, she came to the U.S. to swim at the University of Michigan and led the Wolverines to their best finishes at the NCAA Championships in a quarter century.

In Ann Arbor, she trained with Gabby DeLoof, who was one spot away from making it to Tokyo in the 800 free relay, among other All-Americans. Then at the NCAA Championships, Haughey spent four years going head-to-head with Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Mallory Comerford and Abbey Weitzeil. She was an All-American all four years in the event, finishing as high as second overall, holding off fellow Olympians on the regular.

“It is like a rehearsal for the Olympics,” Siobhan Haughey told Swimming World.

Then it was on to the world championships, where she surged to fourth place in the 200 free, just missing a medal and announcing to the world — and herself — that she belonged in that top group of the world’s elite.

“Definitely I was surprised,” Haughey said. “Heading into the ISL, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was definitely surprised by my results.”

After graduating from Michigan as a 14-time All-American, she joined the professional ranks, signed her first endorsements and joined the International Swimming League (ISL). 
In two years of ISL racing, she was not defeated in the 200 free — not once — breaking Asian records seemingly in every meet. That all came during a year without a taper as the Olympics were postponed and there was no big meet to compete.

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Siobhan Bernadette Haughey (HKG) in the women's 200m freestyle semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Siobhan Haughey. Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

That stunning domination propelled her toward Tokyo in 2021 not having had a full taper in two years.

The pandemic slowed things down as she was unable to train at Michigan during COVID-19 since the pools were closed for a couple of months, then opened only to current student-athletes.

Haughey returned to Hong Kong to live at the Olympic training center there and get a regular routine back. She threw down some impressive times in exhibition races — again untapered — and time trials, waiting to show that speed on the world’s biggest stage.

She had something to prove to herself, her country and the world and did just that, taking the second seed from the 200 free semifinals and holding that in the finals to earn the silver, ahead of Olympic gold medalists Penny Oleksiak, Katie Ledecky and Federica Pellegrini, the world record holder, as well as former Olympic record holder Allison Schmitt, who was also in the field and finished 10th.

Siobhan Haughey has continued to take a huge step year after year, taking immense pride in breaking barriers for her native Hong Kong.

She was just tenths of a second away from gold, nearly pulling off an incredible … what people outside of swimming would call an incredible upset. But the swimmers know it was no upset that she was on the medal stand in Tokyo, as do the people of Hong Kong, where her stardom will continue to rise. She has been building toward this for the past six years and the rest of the world was finally able to see it.

What’s next after a historic medal?

Haughey still has the 50 and 100 free to go, as well as leading Hong Kong relays, but as for the 200 free, more history could await Siobhan Haughey in the future — after all, just three years until Paris.

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