Ireland looking to qualify first relay swim team for Olympics since 1972
European Aquatics Championships in Budapest offers opportunity for Irish swimmers
Shane Ryan has qualified in the 100m backstroke for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Seven weeks after Shane Ryan predicted Ireland could be sending one of its largest ever team of swimmers to the Tokyo Olympics, the chance for a relay qualification – a first since 1972 – is now presented at the 35th European Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, beginning inside the Duna Arena.
Swim Ireland have announced a team of 24 (20 swimmers and four divers), with the diving competitions off first on Monday, before the swimming events begin next Monday.
Originally scheduled for this time last year, before being postponed due to Covid-19, the championships will help seal the remaining qualifying positions in the Tokyo relay events, Swim Ireland national performance director Jon Rudd making that the clear intention. Ireland last qualified an Olympic swimming relay team in Munich 1972, in the women’s 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley.
Olympic relay qualification saw the 12 best nations at the 2019 World Championships, staged in Gwangju, South Korea gain automatic qualification for Tokyo.
With a total of 16 Olympic slots available per relay, Ireland are currently sitting in two top-16 positions leading into this competition – the Irish men’s 4x100m medley (14th at the 2019 World Championships), and men’s 4x200m freestyle (16th). These positions must be secured further with faster times produced than those achieved in Gwangju, Budapest presenting the last opportunity for European nations to achieve this.
“For our swimmers, this event has an explicit relay focus as far as we are concerned,” said Rudd, “and the athletes are aware that this is the absolute priority for these championships. The team is littered with high-quality athletes, and we will be doing all we can to see at least one Irish relay team feature at an Olympic Games for the first time in 49 years.
“For our divers, it’s off a plane from Tokyo and on a plane to Budapest in the quest for much needed international competition leading into the summer, something that we have all missed so much in the last 14 months. Across swimming and diving, it is a large team, and it has been selected with a clear intent and purpose.”
The Irish team includes the four swimmers who have already achieved Olympic consideration times for individual events – Shane Ryan (100m backstroke), Darragh Greene (100m/200m breaststroke), Daniel Wiffen (800m freestyle) and Mona McSharry (100m breaststroke).
There will also be an Irish team in the mixed 4x100m medley relay, plus a quartet for the women’s 4x100m medley and 4x100m freestyle relay events, allowing for five potential qualifiers. Also set to feature are Irish record holders Brendan Hyland, Conor Ferguson, Danielle Hill, Ellen Walshe and Jack McMillan and Irish junior record holders Paddy Johnston and Eoin Corby.
For the four divers, Oliver Dingley and Tanya Watson last week sealing their Tokyo qualification, Ciara McGing and Clare Cryan still in contention, there’s no Olympic qualifying status, though important practice competition no less.