Siobhan O’Connor On Training Daisy Ridley For ‘Young Woman and the Sea’ Amid The Cold Waters Of The Black Sea

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

Siobhan O’Connor On Training Daisy Ridley For ‘Young Woman and the Sea’ Amid The Cold Waters Of The Black Sea

Less than a year after retiring from swimming, Siobhan O’Connor found herself travelling to the Black Sea, Bulgaria, to shoot a film about Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel.

O’Connor retired in June 2021 after a career that saw her win 200IM silver at Rio 2016 – where she became the third woman to break the 2:07 barrier in 2:06.88 – as well as world, European and Commonwealth titles.

After stepping away from competition, O’Connor did some private swim coaching before she received an unexpected call in 2022 which saw her put in contact with a film producer.

Photo Courtesy: Disney

They explained they were making a film about Ederle, a triple medallist at Paris 1924 and the first woman to swim the Channel in 1926 and the sixth person overall in record time, based on the book of the same name, ‘Young Woman and the Sea’.

British actress Daisy Ridley, who has appeared in three Star Wars films, would be playing Ederle and the producers were hoping O’Connor could take her for a swimming assessment.

O’Connor jumped at the chance, drawing on what she’d learned throughout her long career.

She told Swimming World:

“I did quite a bit of prep – I guess that’s the swimmer, the athlete in me.

“I wanted to make sure I understood what Trudy (Gertrude) had done and learned about her story.

“We had a really good first session. Daisy is very athletic: she has had a lot of experience in other films.

“She is a very talented individual with other experiences she has had. But she definitely wouldn’t say she was a swimmer before…”

Technique, Endurance And The Cold Black Sea

With three months until production would relocate to Bulgaria for filming in the Black Sea, the pair embarked on an intense training programme in London.

Praising Ridley’s work ethic as “phenomenal,” the pair worked on technique and endurance.

O’Connor said:

“In order to swim efficiently in the open water for long periods of time, you need have a good technique behind you.

“And also to try and make sure Daisy’s stroke looked as much like Trudy’s as possible based on the footage that we had.

“Obviously no stroke is going to look exactly the same but technique was a huge, huge focus so we worked a lot on that initially.

“Then it was building Daisy’s endurance.

“It wasn’t just open water swimming in the film; you see scenes where Trudy’s competing in the Olympics and she’s competing in New York in her first swimming competitions.

“So there were so many different skills and speeds and intensities that Daisy had to train at to be able to prepare for these scenes.

“It was incredible: she worked so hard and I was really proud.”


O’Connor was then asked to travel to Bulgaria to work with the cast and give technical input and advice in terms of sea swimming.

They spent nine days filming in the Black Sea with O’Connor writing all the sessions as Ridley swam alongside the boat.

The days were long and compounded by the cold weather and they had to factor in the heavy bathing costumes that were worn by women at the time and the subsequent effect on the swimmer.

Ederle wore a woollen one-piece that filled with water on her first attempt in 1925 but returned a year later in a two-piece.

“It was Daisy just getting in and out and in and out to do these different scenes, different set-ups, different camera angles and things. It was so cold, there’d been a storm just before we shot in the Black Sea,” said O’Connor.

“It was supposed to be a little bit warmer but as you’ll see in the film and as we know through history, Trudy didn’t wear a wetsuit.

“So Daisy was swimming in the sea in a bikini – Trudy’s sister made the very first bikini for her Channel attempt.

“It was pretty incredible really that Daisy was able to withstand the cold as well as swimming against currents, trying to keep up with boats, it was amazing.”

Dave McNulty & Ederle Inspiration

One person that came to mind throughout training and filming was Dave McNulty, O’Connor’s former coach at Bath National Training Centre, who guided her to the Olympic podium.

She said:

“I was thinking of Dave pretty much all the way through because I’d think about how he would structure the sessions.

“Obviously it was a bit different but I thought about incorporating threshold, different training zones to try and build endurance and vary the sessions and to try and do it in a relatively short space of time.

“Six months is quite a long period but when you haven’t had years of training behind you in swimming, that is actually quite a short space of time to try and prepare for this sort of intensity of swimming effort that is going to be required.”

Photo Courtesy: Disney

O’Connor was also given a role in the film as one of Ederle’s Olympic teammates and strode the red carpet at the premiere alongside Ridley and director Joachim Rønning.

Now working in investment banking, O’Connor is grateful for the opportunity to have spent a year working on the project, something she sees as a one-off.

“It was an amazing experience from start to finish. It was pretty much nearly a whole year of my life from start to finish, there were lots of different opportunities throughout that production and it was just incredible.

“I got to work with some amazing people.

“Trudy’s story is so inspiring as well. I’m biased but it’s a beautiful film.

“It’s surprising how many people didn’t know about it (Trudy’s story) and it’s just incredible that it’s just being shared.

“To have that opportunity was like a dream, I was so happy. The premiere was very special, seeing everyone again and getting to relive that wonderful experience was great.”

Read more about Gertrude Ederle:

When She Beat the Boys: Celebrating Anniversary of Gertrude Ederle’s Historic English Channel Crossing

Gertrude Ederle, First Woman to Swim the English Channel, Dies at 98

Barrier Breakers: Women Who Have Elevated The Sport

‘Young Woman and the Sea’ Set For May Release

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