Hong Kong teen swim star Siobhan Haughey aiming to go one better than Olympic Games and make final at world championships

The 19-year-old had another impressive season on the gruelling US college circuit for University of Michigan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 7:05pm

Hong Kong swim star Siobhan Haughey is targeting a place in the finals as she takes part in the World Aquatics Championships this week.

The teenager made history at Rio 2016 as she became the first Hong Kong swimmer ever to reach an Olympic semi-final, and after another impressive season in the elite US college circuit with the University of Michigan, the 19-year-old is hoping to go one better at the worlds, as the swimming programme starts on Sunday in Budapest.

“The Olympics definitely gave me a lot of confidence because I know how fast I can go,” she said. “However, I was a bit burnt out from last year as I didn’t really have a break after college season and after the Olympics.

All-Americans. Swipe for a few more photos from tonight's record-setting 800 Freestyle Relay at NCAAs. #GoBlue

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“On top of that, after an excellent freshman year and summer, I had very high expectations on myself for the new season. So it was a bit hard for me to adjust at the beginning.

“However, I eventually realised that I can’t linger on what happened last season. College swimming is more about the team rather than myself.

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“The team culture and my teammates’ support really helped me move on from Rio. Since then I’ve been putting in the hard work, and had some really good practices and I’m very excited about the worlds.”

Haughey helped UMich to back-to-back Big Ten championships this season, the first time the university had done so in almost 20 years. She was named a two-time NCAA All-American, one of the top honours in US college sport.

A gold medallist at the junior world championships in 2013, she will compete in 100m and 200m free and relays at the Worlds, and is seen as a dark horse to reach the 200m final – though she will likely have to improve on her own Hong Kong record of one minute, 56.91 seconds set in Rio.

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“There are definitely goals that I want to achieve at Worlds [but] I just want to swim my own race, focus on the details that I have been working on throughout the year and enjoy the meet,” she said.

“Making the finals is a challenging but attainable goal if I try hard enough. That is what I am aiming for. And if I get into the finals, we shall see what happens.

For those who didn't watch the opening ceremony, this was basically me the whole time, smiling and waving my flag #rio2016

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“I don’t really have any main rivals in the 100 and 200 free, since they’re very popular events among swimmers ... [and there’s] always rising swimmers who swim the world’s top times.

“I can’t control how well everyone else is doing or how prepared they are. All I can do is to try to keep my head down, do the work, and put my hand on the wall before everyone else.”

Haughey just missed out on a podium place at the NCAA championships in the 200 free, finishing just behind Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky, who won six gold medals between them in Rio, and surprise winner Mallory Comerford.

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“It was certainly an interesting season because a lot had happened,” she said. “In the fall I was competing in dual meets almost every weekend so it was quite tiring for my body.

“But it was also good training as Big Tens and NCAA were only a month apart. I had to get use to racing often and recovering fast. Those practices certainly paid off.

Focused, or actually looking at my toe nail polish?

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“It was the first time [Michigan] won back-to-back Big Ten titles since 1997-98, and at the NCAA, I came fourth in the 200 free and improved by more than two seconds from last year. I also finished 10th in the 100 free with best time, and 11th in the 200 IM.

“At the Big Ten I initially won the 200 IM and even broke the record, only to find out that I was disqualified due to my back-to-breast turn. It was devastating because that’s 32 points that I could have scored for the team.

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“[But] everyone put their best effort and performance out there and everyone contributed and we eventually won the title. I never forget that individuals win races, but teams win championships.”

And Haughey, whose father is Irish and mother Chinese, is looking forward to flying the team flag for Hong Kong again after her star turn at the Olympics. After the worlds, she heads to Taipei for the World University Games in August.

She will be joined in Budapest by Chan Kin-lok, Claudia Lau Yin-yan, Sze Hang-yu, Ho Nam-wai, Toto Wong Kwan-to and Kent Cheung Kin-tat.

“I’m excited to race for Hong Kong and also to race alongside another former Michigan swimmer, Claudia. I also noticed that there are more swimmers from Hong Kong going to the Worlds this year.

“There are also younger swimmers making the team so I think it says something about Hong Kong swimming and its future.”