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Amazing experience to drive Flying Finn on to Paris 2024

ESB Apprentice Moneypoint

A BALLINA swimmer says the “amazing” Olympic experience and homecoming will provide him with additional motivation to to and qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Finn McGeever is still taken aback by the rousing reception he received from people who lined the streets of the twin communities of Ballina and Killaloe to welcome him home from the Tokyo Olympics last week.
He believes this is one of the motivating factors that will help him to continue his improvement to try and book a second successive Olympic swimming spot in three years’ time.
“Loads of things have happened in recent weeks that will maximise the incentive to try and qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics,” he told The Champion.
“The support from the village, coaches and my family and the Olympic experience gives me more incentive to try for the next Olympics.”
The 20-year-old former St Anne’s Community College student made history by being part of an Irish swimming relay team, who competed in the 200 metre relay event for the first time in 49 years.
Finn, a second-year student at University of Limerick (UL), trains in the nearby National Centre Limerick, will never forget his time in Toyko.
“The Olympic experience is something I will not forget. There whole experience was amazing. I enjoyed the holiday in the Olympic village after the race seeing famous athletes and all the national flags in the centre of the main street.
“I am still blown away by all the apartment blocks with athletes.”
While it was disappointing his parents, Roisín and Charlie couldn’t travel to Toyko due to Covid-19 restrictions, Finn stressed the whole community rallied around his family and provided great support in the lead up to the relay race.
Roisín regularly sent Finn photographs of all the banners and posters with “Go Finn” in prominent locations throughout Ballina and Killaloe before the race.
“Standing on the starting block with this level of support, there is an even bigger incentive to do well. It was unbelievable the amount of support I received,” he said.
Having competed in the Olympics, he said all the sacrifices and arduous training before the competition were worthwhile.
He enjoyed meeting the Irish male rowers who won gold and the female rowers, who were great fun and very humble, as well as four-time Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden who regaled with some interesting stories.
Finn thanked his parents for all the sacrifices they made getting up very early in the morning to take him in for training in UL.
Roisín, Charlie and his brother, Donnacha travelled to Dublin Airport on Wednesday, August 4, to welcome Finn home after his three-week Olympic adventure.
“I had seen what people were doing for me at home, so I couldn’t wait to get home, meet my friends and say thanks,” he recalled.
After coming off the motorway, Finn and his family stopped in Larkin’s petrol station on the Birdhill road where they were met by two open topped cars with banners and a garda escort.
“I said ‘oh God, is this happening. I was excited and a bit embarrassed because I had to sit up and I was wondering what if there is nobody there. Donnacha was with me in the open topped car.
“The garda siren went on and they drove us in. People started appearing on the road waving flags. I was trembling from how happy I was and the amazing reception.
“I remember when the car stopped someone came over to shake my hand but I couldn’t do it, my hand was like jelly because I was blown away by the whole reception. It was very cool. We went all around Ballina and Killaloe.”
He thanked everyone who was involved and participated in the homecoming reception, and Killaloe Gardai for organising the garda escort.
Finn expects to return to a similar training regime at the end of August, swimming up to four hours a day six days a week with one-hour gym sessions on certain days. This is adjusted depending on how close the training is to competitions.
He burns between 5,000 and 6,000 calories a day swimming, and often clocks up 50 kilometres in the water during the week.
Finn recalled he and his brother would swim every day in the lake during the summer. Even when the family went abroad it was always water-orientated.
On Sunday, July 11, Finn flew out to a holding camp, which consisted of staying in a section of a hotel that was only used by the nine Irish Olympic swimmers, and they had to stay away from Japanese guests in line with Covid-19 regulations.
This hotel was only a 15-minute bus journey to a swimming pool where they completed a dedicated training pool and gym programme laid out by head coach, John Szaranek, and strength and conditioning coach, Lorna Barry.
In the lead-up to the relay event, the Irish swimmers did less training in line with the tapered tailored training programme to ensure they were fresh for the competition.
The day before the relay event, Finn only swam for about 15 minutes.
In addition to a Team Ireland room with loads of snacks, the Irish swimmers could choose from a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which ensured they never went hungry.
They played table tennis and tested themselves completing a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle in their room.
There was a separate Team Ireland hotel, which the Irish swimmers visited on one day for an outing.The Irish swimmers arrived in the Olympic Village after a four-hour journey on July 20.
They were allocated an apartment with two of them residing in different rooms.
“We were fairly confined to indoors. We had some outdoor time each day but we didn’t use it much because it was quite close to training and it would be draining in the heat.
“Once we got to the Olympic Village, we got loads of sun time because we were out every day walking to the food hall, rooms and the park.
“As soon as we arrived, I was blown away because we saw these massive apartment blocks full of athletes with loads of national flags. We had a really good view of Toyko city from our balcony and could see all the skyscrapers.
“It was my first time seeing a skyscraper in Toyko – the largest metropolis in the world.”
All the athletes had to undergo daily spit Covid-19 tests conducted by Japanese officials, who would only contact people if they tested positive for the virus.
Athletes had to wear their masks and use hand sanitisers, which were located everywhere. The swimmers also had contract tracing apps on their phones, which were monitored by Japanese officials.
While Finn did speak to other Irish athletes, he said it was hard to have a proper conversation with masks, and he has got to know a large number of other sport people as this is essentially his first year competing in international competitions on a regular basis.
Asked how he relaxes in the run-up to a major competition, Finn stressed if you start thinking about the race too much, you end up wasting a lot of energy, which is pointless.
“I was thinking about the Olympics on race day. Once I saw the other swimmers competing in the heat, it was the most excited I have ever been in my life by a country mile.
“I was so excited to swim for Ireland. When I walked out to the pool I was previously told by my coaches to take it all in and remember that moment, which is what I did.
“But, just before the race you have to focus on the race. I was calm on the starting block. I can’t remember any of the race, apart from the first 50 metres because I was so buzzed to be swimming. It was good fun.”
He recalled the Irish swimmers had some of the strongest swimmers in the second heat of the relay event, including Great Britain who won the gold medal.
He explained swimmers are placed in different lanes based on their times before the race. Ireland were positioned in Lane Eight in the second heat and went into the competition ranked 15th.
Lane Eight in the first heat had the slowest pre-race times and this lane in the second heat were the second slowest.
Most athletes reach peak performance at the age of 25 or 26. Finn (20) felt very young as a lot of the swimmers he spoke to were much older.
This gives him hope in terms of trying to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Two Irish swimmers, Jordan Sloan and Gerry Quinn actually had faster times, but couldn’t compete because of a controversial Fina rule that stipulates two out of the four swimmers on the team need to qualify in a different event. Their performances at the LEN European championships in May were crucial to ensuring Ireland’s invitation to the four by 200 metre relay.
“It doesn’t make sense to us and we still give out about it. I was sad and angry about the fact the two lads couldn’t be there because I really like them but we couldn’t allow the whole trip to be spoiled by this mad rule.
“I have yet to hear of a good reason for this rule. Four Irish swimmers qualified for the Olympics, but only two could go. The rule is flawed,” he said.
He recalled that the same rule resulted in Poland being forced to send home six swimmers after they had arrived in Tokyo.
Asked about not qualifying for the semi-finals from the heats, Finn believes he and other swimmers have a lot of room for improvement over the coming years.
He praised head coach Szaranek for helping him to drop four seconds off his time in the 200 metre freestyle and really appreciates the assistance he has received from assistant coach, Michael McCarthy, strength and conditioning coach, Lorna Barry, nutritionist, Carol O’Sullivan, physiotherapist Catherine Fahy.

by Dan Danaher

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