Siobhan-Marie O’Connor Leaves For Loughborough After 12 Years At Bath With Coach McNulty

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

(Siobhan-Marie O’Connor Leaves For Loughborough)

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, the British Olympic silver medallist who gave Hungarian Katinka Hosszu a fright in her signature 200m medley at the Rio 2016 Games, is leaving the University of Bath program that has been her swimming home for the past 12 years.

Next month, O’Connor will set out on the final journey to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Britain’s other key performance centre in Loughborough, base for Adam Peaty and his coach Mel Marshall, as well as James Wilby and several others members of the national team.

The decision was taken with the blessing of O’Connor’s long-time coach Dave McNulty. O’Connor will be coaches by Dave Hemmings at Loughborough.

O’Connor delivered the news on social media today with thanks to Bath, which spotted her potential as a local talent and accepted her into performance squads as a young teenager despite her being well shy of university age.

It’s been pretty emotional having to write this,” O’Connor noted. “This pool has been my best friend, my worst enemy and my solitude for the last 12 years of my life.”

With a nod to the pool at Bath, she wrote:

“I’ve tried to work out how many lengths I’ve swum here and it’s probably well into the millions. I’ve grown up here, and it has been the place that has seen me at my worst but also my best. There’s definitely been a great deal of blood, sweat and tears shed, but this pool is the place that has blessed me with so many incredible friends and memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

“It’s time to say goodbye, however, I’m really excited to start afresh in a new place next season and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months has in store,” she added.

O’Connor noted how hard it was to make up her mind: “It’s obviously been a tough decision but I want to thank every single person who was a part of my journey in Bath – staff and swimmers – because it just wouldn’t have been the same without my second family. Bath is a very special place to me and it will always be my home.”

She concluded:

“No-one has made the journey more special than Dave [McNulty] and I’ll never be able to say thank you enough. It’s not where you go in life, but who with. See you in September, Loughborough.”

In Rio, when Hosszu stopped the clock in 2:06.58 for gold, she had not expected O’Connor to be right there with her, on 2:06.88 for silver in a Commonwealth record as the second swimming in textile ever to crack 2:07 after the Hungarian.

Last year, O’Connor became the first woman in history to retain the Commonwealth 200m medley title.

The Colitis That Threatened Her Career

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor

Siobhan O’Connor; Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

O’Connor feared she would be forced to quit swimming after being hospitalised after the 2018 season on the way to World Championships in Gwangju. Amazingly, she recovered in time to return to form good enough to get her into the 200m medley in Korea last month.

The 23-year-old was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis soon after the London 2012 Olympics and has managed the symptoms since. She suffered a serious flare-up in December and January, telling media, including Swimming World’s Liz Byrnes:

“I didn’t know it could get that bad – it took me by surprise and was really scary. At that point [in December], I was thinking: ‘Is the Olympic dream for next year over?’ I could barely swim and that was a really scary prospect. I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to swim any more.”

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the large intestine. In O’Connor’s case, it means she is prone to bouts of extreme fatigue and is susceptible to viruses as a result of a weakened immune system. She said:

“The symptoms can be debilitating and embarrassing – but to everyone around you, it can be invisible.”

O’Connor speaks out about her condition in the hope that it will help others feel better able to cope. A new course of medication started at the beginning of the year has gone well.

In an interview with the BBC, Dave McNulty, noted how hard it has been for O’Connor at times: “Colitis is a disease that gives you fatigue when you’re at work or looking after your family, so to have it and be a high-performance athlete is incredibly difficult.

“She’s come through another tough period, but she has her strength back and has that little glint in her eye that I saw years ago – so I just hope she gets what she deserves.”

O’Connor looks on the bright side, saying: “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do the sport I love to this level, and all I want is to get back to my best and give everything I have heading towards Tokyo 2020.”