Charles Haughey’s grand-niece Siobhan wins Hong Kong’s first ever swimming medal

Swimmer – who has an Irish father – took silver in the women’s 200m in Tokyo

 

With a name like Siobhan Bernadette Haughey there was bound to be a strong Irish connection, and indeed that soon revealed itself after Haughey won a silver medal for Hong Kong in the women’s 200 metres final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Wednesday - a first medal for the Chinese territory in Olympic swimming history,

A grand-niece of the late Charles Haughey, the former Fianna Fáil leader who served three terms as Taoiseach, the 23-year old Haughey was born in Hong Kong, her father Darach working there for a major accountancy firm, her mother Canjo being a native of Hong Kong.

Whatever about making headlines in Ireland, Haughey is already assured of considerable fame in Hong Kong: on Monday, the first Olympic gold medal won by a Hong Kong athlete since the territory’s handover to China in 1997 stirred some sense of unity in a society so divided over political issues in recent years.

Fencing champion Edgar Cheung Ka-long became the city’s hero after his win in the foil event. The Olympic gold medal earns him various economic bonuses including from the Government, which looks to use the win to bring people together. In a rare scene in Hong Kong, the city’s major newspapers on Tuesday morning all carried the same story in the same tone, praising Cheung’s gold in Tokyo.

Haughey is being similarly lauded.

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Ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Haughey revealed that she had been approached to represent Ireland but “chose to represent Hong Kong because I was born there, raised there, and feel connected and proud to represent Hong Kong”.

Haughey has shown her own Olympic medal winning potential for years, winning a gold medal in the 100m freestyle at the World Junior Championships back in 2013, and also competing in Rio 2016 when aged only 17. She also placed fifth in the 200m freestyle at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest.

Ariarne Titmus from Australia won the gold medal in an Olympic record time of 1:53.50, Haughey winning silver for Hong Kong with a new Asian record of 1:53.92. Penny Oleksiak from Canada won the bronze in 1:54.70. Haughey was back in the pool later and also broke the Asian record in the heat of the 100, freestyle, where she finished second to Australia’s Emma McKeon.

Her older sister Aisling Haughey has also represented Hong Kong at several World Cup events, and was her first inspiration to take up the sport; she now works a physiotherapist in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

Haughey has also achieved considerable swimming success at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the USA, coached by Rick Bishop, and is affectionately known as The Little Mermaid, her fluency in English and Cantonese helping her transition to that college scene.

She is the granddaughter of the late Charles Haughey’s brother Seán; both men died in 2006. She learned to swim at age five at the South China Athletic Association in Hong Kong: “My parents loved swimming, and we lived in a building with a swimming pool,” she said in 2016 interview.

“On the weekends, my parents would bring me and my older sister to the pool to teach us to swim. It came to the point where they couldn’t teach my sister anything more because she wouldn’t listen to them, so they brought her to a swimming club close by.

“When I was younger, I really hated swimming. Different coaches told my parents I had talent and I shouldn’t give up swimming. The more I swam, the more I realised I actually liked swimming.”

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