Hong Kong’s star swimmer Siobhan Haughey shares her secrets to her Olympic success

  • The two-time silver medal winner recently returned from the Tokyo Games and took part in a webinar for ‘Young Post’ readers
  • Before starting school at 8am, the former Student of the Year Award winner had already been studying and swimming for four hours
Andrew McNicol |

Latest Articles

Nutritional value of different meats and healthiest ways to cook it

Japanese scientists find microplastics in clouds for first time

Two-time silver medallist Siobhan Haughey waves at fans after returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP

By the time young Siobhan Haughey would arrive at school at 8am, she had already been studying and swimming for four hours. After spending eight more hours at school, she still faced even more training and studying.

During the Hong Kong star swimmer’s senior secondary school years, that was her exhausting routine – and it was what eventually made her an Olympic medallist at the Tokyo Games last month.

“Now that I look back on it, it’s kind of crazy and very tiring. But it’s all worth it in the end,” Haughey said.

Hong Kong’s B-girls aim for the 2024 Paris Olympics

“I definitely have those days when I’m too tired to go to school or I just don’t feel like training. But then I go back to my long-term goal and think about why I am doing this.”

In a webinar this week with readers of Young Post and participants of South China Morning Post’s Student of the Year (SOTY) Awards, the 23-year-old Olympian recounted the sacrifices she made over the years, and discussed how she set long-term and short-term goals to get back on her feet after discouraging setbacks.

Haughey joins other Hong Kong athletes in a bus parade through the city. Photo: EPA

Haughey won two silvers at the Tokyo Games’ 100m and 200m freestyle, becoming one of only two Hong Kong Olympians who have ever won two Olympic medals.

But her journey to become one of the world’s best swimmers has not been an easy feat. She took her first swimming class at the South China Athletic Association at the age of four, and cried every time she went to practice.

But over time, she fell in love with the sport, and even when her academics became more demanding in secondary school, her dedication was reflected in her daily schedule.

What inspires these young Olympians

“When I was in secondary school, we had morning swimming training at 5.15am, so on an average day I’d wake up at 4.45am, walk to the pool and train until 7am. Then, I’d quickly rush home, shower, eat breakfast and go to school from around 8am to 4pm,” Haughey said.

She explained how her school had long lunch breaks, so after finishing lunch and taking a short rest, she would try to finish as much homework as possible before afternoon classes began.

“I eat and train again from 6pm to 8pm, then come home to do homework and study,” she continued. “Sometimes, I didn’t have enough time to study at night, so I’d wake up at 3am the next morning to finish my work. It’s definitely hard and tiring, but that’s why it’s good to have good time management skills.”

Haughey does a meet and greet with fans and admirers at Pacific Place. Photo: SCMP/ Dickson Lee

Even during the most stressful times, such as when she was preparing for the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) Examination­ – the university entrance exam – Haughey made sure to balance her hard work with breaks.

Her late nights and early mornings paid off on her DSE exam: she ended up scoring 5** in liberal studies; 5* in English; 5 in accounting and Maths; 4 in Chinese, Chemistry and English literature. (5** is the top score.)

In 2013, she won the SOTY Sportsperson award. SOTY is sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Meet Japan’s 13-year-old medal winner

The star student went to the University of Michigan to continue her studies and training, though it took some time before she became an Olympic medallist.

After the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she did not win any medals, she set a long-term goal to make it to the swimming finals in the Tokyo Games.

Before every practice, she set smaller goals for what she wanted to achieve, such as working on her turns, or aiming for four to five kicks after pushing off the wall, she said.

All about Hong Kong’s own Sarah Lee

Before the 2019 world swimming championship, she had set a long-term goal of medalling in the 200m freestyle. But she missed out, finishing just 0.2 second slower than the bronze medallist.

“That was devastating because I was so close to my goal ... I was sad for maybe two minutes, and I told myself maybe it was a good way to motivate myself to do better next time so I wouldn’t miss out in the Olympics,” she explained.

Setting these short-term and long-term goals was the key to reaching her targets – along with surrounding herself with positive and supportive people, and relaxing by baking biscuits and eating sweets.

A lot of hard work and sacrifice went into Haughey’s Olympic success. Photo: Reuters

Two years later, she earned her spot at the Tokyo Olympics medal podium.

“Hopefully, I’m an inspiration to a lot of people. If I was five, 10, 15 years old, just seeing this Olympic medal would be a really cool thing,” she said, hoping her successful Olympic bid would inspire the city’s next generation.

“The road to achieving your goals or dreams won’t be easy. But you have to keep moving forward because sometimes you think you’re in the dark, but if you keep moving forward, you’ll eventually see the light.”

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy