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27 Jan 2022

Mona McSharry shoots for the stars in Abu Dhabi

Mona McSharry shoots for the stars in Abu Dhabi

Mona McSharry. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Olympic finalist Mona McSharry is back in competitive action on Thursday when she dives into the FINA World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi.

The Marlins Swimming Club, Ballyshannon graduate is set to compete in the 100m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m breaststroke at the Emirates Arena. The relays are also a possibility for the 21-year-old from Grange.

“I haven't race short course metres in a long time,” McSharry says. “I’m excited to just go out there, do my best and have fun. 

“The Olympics reminded me how much fun racing can be."

At the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, McSharry reached the final of the 100m breaststroke. In doing so, she became only the second ever Irish swimmer to reach an Olympic final and the first since Michelle Smith at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

“I’m always shooting for the stars in my own head,” she says. 

“Sometimes I probably build the expectations up too high and then get upset, even when I do really well. 

“The Olympics did show me I have the ability to compete at a top-class level, but I kind of knew that myself already.

"I'm working my way up to being competitive at the top level.

"It was a big jump for me to go from junior worlds and then all of a sudden to be surrounded by so many seniors, so many amazing athletes. Making that transition was hard but building on all the experiences and then making the final and competing was great.

"To stand alongside all those women from all over the world was really nice. That tells me that I do belong there."

McSharry, whose rise came via her work with coach Grace Meade at Marlins, is among an 11-strong Irish team that has traveled to Abu Dhabi.

The University of Tennessee student was a World Junior gold medalist in the 100m breaststroke in 2017. Since moving Stateside in 2020, the kinesiology student has won silver and bronze medals at NCAA Championships.

“I wanted to get my degree while I was swimming,” she says.

"When I retire I will have something to lean back on. The collegiate system is something that for any athlete who gets the opportunity is one they should really go for. Swimming is my break from college studies and studies are my break from swimming. I don't have a lot of time from anything else.”

After the heights of Tokyo and homecoming events in Ballyshannon and Grange, McSharry was back on the plane across the Atlantic again.

She says: “I think that was nicer for me as it got me back to reality, back into hard work. It happened, it was amazing, but it's nice to keep going and move forward. Still, I was happy with with what I achieved.

"I thought I swam well and moved through the rounds pretty well. There are places where I can improve and there always will be. But I honestly went above and beyond what I thought was achievable at that Olympics. It makes me excited for the next Olympics and the next couple of years of competing."

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A new Irish record in the 200m breaststroke (2:25.08) rounded off her Olympic experience.

Now, she’s back for more.

“I’d love to do PBs,” she says.

I don’t really know where I’m at but I think I’ll just get in there and race, try get my hand on the wall first. Honestly, sometimes you get better performances that way. I’m feeling great, excited to see how it goes.

“We’ve done a lot of competing and racing and hard training over the last couple of months and I think that’s really going to stand to me.”

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