Grainne Murphy may be remembered from London 2012 as the athlete who swam below par in the 400m freestyle heats, almost a full 10 seconds slower than her personal best. She then pulled out of the Olympics and was diagnosed as having glandular fever. It was no secret that the then teenager from Wexford fell out of love with the sport.
She's back now for the first time since the 2013 Irish short course championships and while yesterday's swim in the final of the Irish Open 1,500m freestyle was good enough for only third place behind two American swimmers, Joy Field and Brent Kendall, Murphy is playing it low key but has an eye on Rio next year.
Her week though, was not without gold as she won in the 800 freestyle on the opening day at the
National Aquatic Centre
(NAC). It’s the 800m where her Olympic ambitions will probably lie, although her winning time of 8:43.33 seconds was short of her own Irish record and over seven seconds outside the qualifying time for this year’s World Championships in Russia.
Murphy has already been one of Ireland’s most successful swimmers, winning a silver medal in the 1,500 metres freestyle at the 2010 European Championships. That same year she competed in the European Short Course Championships in Eindhoven where she won bronze in the 400m freestyle and the 800m freestyle. That collection of medals was assembled when she was just 17 years old.
Three months ago she folded her tent in Ireland and moved to the south of France.
“London was a huge part of what I did,” she says. “Back then everybody had dreams about going to the Olympics. But all of my illness is now behind me now so I’ll focus now on getting back fit and getting back to where I want to be.
“Obviously I went to London and got sick there and I’m at the other end of it now. I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I’m really happy and enjoying training a lot more, happy where I am.”
Going to live in Narbonne in the south of France has turned out to be a good move for her.
“I’ve been down there for just three months and I’m in a really good programme,” she says. “If I keep doing the training hopefully everything will go in the right direction.
"It was a bit of a quick decision but yeah, I'm really enjoying it there and looking forward to getting back and getting into high training. I've qualified for the World Student Games, which I'm really pleased about. I didn't think at the start of the year that anything like that would happen. It's a real bonus. I didn't put any pressure on myself. It was just about getting back in, enjoying training which I hadn't been doing in the past."
National performance director Peter Banks believes that Murphy has the time to make Rio a goal with a qualification time next year a realistic ambition.
“I think she is showing at the moment that she certainly has a chance to get to Rio,” said Banks. “She’s been 8.41 this season (800m freestyle) with the amount of training she’s done. She has to be 8.33 this time next year. I think that’s a very reasonable goal for someone who has done 8.25. It’s not outside the realms of probability. But I think she is progressing in the right way and the worst thing we can do is put too much expectations around that. I think she has the time to do it.
UCD's Alex Murphy had a better than expected week and was candid enough to admit that his qualifying time for the World Championships in Russia later this year came totally out of the blue. Murphy along with three other Irish swimmers, Fiona Doyle, Syceirka McMahon and Chris Bryan will all compete in Kazan.
Murphy, whose father is Irish and who was brought up in Oxford, is on a sports scholarship. His time he believes was driven by the American swimmers who brought considerable depth to the competition with a 51-strong team.
“It was totally unexpected. Some of us on the team were not fully rested for this competition so it did come as a surprise,” said the 19-year-old. “I think because of the American team here there was good competition and the support from my Irish team-mates. I wanted to do it for them. As it was so unexpected my coach hasn’t even got a training plan in place yet. That will be something we’ll be putting together in the next couple of weeks specifically for the World Championships. Rio is too far ahead to think of at the minute. But the goal is Rio”
Murphy swam 27.56 seconds in the 50m breaststroke on the first day of competition.