Siobhan-Marie O'Connor: I did not realise just how badly I wanted to be an Olympian
By Bath Chronicle | Thursday, July 26, 2012, 11:00
As an inconsolable Siobhan-Marie O'Connor walked away from the London Aquatics Centre pool, her Olympic dream seemingly in tatters, she simply could not hide her despair.
Siobhan-Marie O'Connor is ready for the Olympics
The tears streamed down her face as the reality that she had got the tactics wrong in the biggest race of her short but spectacular career began to hit home.
The 16-year-old had just finished sixth in the 200m individual medley, the event in which she had stunningly qualified for last year's World Championships by winning the British ASA title.
O'Connor had also claimed three European Junior Championship gold medals during a breakthrough 2011 season but March's setback at the British Gas Swimming Championships was a new – and unwelcome – feeling.
"It hurt and I never, ever, want to feel like that again," she said. "That was the first real disappointment I'd had as everything had just been up and up and up in my career before then.
"Getting to the Worlds last year was so unexpected and made me think for the first time that I could go to the Olympics.
"I sacrificed a lot to try to get to the Games. I took seven weeks out of my GCSE studies to train in Australia during the winter and I found it quite tough to be away from school that long.
"I put everything into proving how much I wanted to be at the Olympics, so to not get there was horrible."
However, O'Connor now believes that failure could prove to be the spur that drives her career to even greater heights.
A determination to put the disappointment behind her as quickly as possible meant O'Connor was soon back in the pool at the Bath Intensive Training Centre, plotting how to keep her Olympic dream alive.
"The setback actually helped me, I think," said O'Connor. "It made me even more determined to get to London. I didn't realise how badly I wanted it until I didn't get it.
"I sat down with my coach and looked at what events still had Team GB places available. I'd swam 1min 9secs in the 100m breaststroke at the trials and was only 0.6secs off the qualifying time.
"I was so close that I couldn't really ignore it, so I started concentrating on that event in my training and it all just paid off."
And how. Despite having to juggle training with sitting her GCSEs at St Gregory's Catholic College, O'Connor went to last month's second-chance trials in Sheffield and destroyed the field.
She sliced half-a-second off her personal best in the heats, then beat the Olympic qualifying standard by four- tenths of a second as she won gold in 1:08.04.
"I was in total shock, it was massively overwhelming," said the Bitton teenager, who started her career with Keynsham Swimming Club.
"I really went for it and gave everything but I was not expecting to break my personal best twice. I didn't know I was capable of doing that.
"The people around me – my friends, family and coach – really helped me bounce back from March and gave me the motivation I needed.
"It is every athlete's dream to compete at a home Olympics but I thought my dream was over. It means so much more now."
As for what else she can achieve at the Games, O'Connor merely wants to enjoy a better experience than her last competitive visit to the Olympic pool.
"I am going to London hoping for a good time and to come away with happy memories," she said.
"I got to the semi-finals at the Worlds last year, which I was pleased with, but you can't really compare that to the Olympics.
"The aim is to just swim well, get a PB and see what happens. I'm sure having the home crowd behind me will help me get to the finish line that bit quicker."