Today the 21-year-old Clare man becomes the first Irish representative to compete in the open water event at the sport’s global showpiece.
Stunning form in the first leg of the European Swimming Cup (he covered the 10k course in 58.41.04) secured his place on the starting blocks in China.
It wasn’t a one-off performance, as he led the European Cup rankings in the event in the early stages of the season. So how did a Shannon man find himself alongside 67 of the best open water swimmers in the world this week?
His answer is akin to the famous response to the question about how to get to Carnegie Hall?
Practise, practise, practise.
He recalled: “I started swimming when I was about three or four. Our neighbour was a swim teacher and it just seemed a natural thing to do. We had a very good bunch in Shannon who were quite competitive — we won a silver medal in Mosney in a Community Games relay final.”
As he grew older, Bryan turned his attention to the swimming club in Ennis to develop his talents.
“I joined the swimming club in Ennis when I was 11 and was coached there by Brendan McGrath. Things went from strength to strength and when I was 17 I started travelling to the High Performance Centre in Limerick for a few additional sessions.”
He trained alongside Gráinne Murphy, first under Steve Price before Ronald Claes took charge of the nation’s elite talent. The punishing schedule makes for painful reading.
“An average day? I am up about 4.30am and have a big breakfast, with two bowls of cereal and some fruit juice.
“By 5am I am pool side and working on my stretching routine which can go on for half an hour. Then it is into the pool for a session which can last between two and a half and four hours. Then I break for lunch, and go back to bed for an hour or two. After that I return to do stretching or gym work which could continue for an hour.
“From 3pm-5pm I am back in the water and when that is finished I have an hour of rehab/recovery work with special emphasis on my shoulders. Then I head back home have dinner, relax, watch some TV and head to bed as I have to be up early again the next morning.
“I have 10 sessions a week with Wednesday evenings and Sundays off. My programme from January to May can have me doing between 80km and 110km a week. During competition season that tails down to between 60km and 80km.”
Though an island, Ireland doesn’t have a great tradition of open water swimming and Bryan admits his love for the discipline came about by accident as much as design.
“Distance swimming was just what I happened to be good at. As a youngster I was fine over the short events but I was better the longer the course. Another factor in my decision was that I was involved in Surf Livesaving competitions when I was younger. It was a huge thing in Clare under Brendan McGrath and I enjoyed it. From there I got a taste for the open water. I did the River Lee swim, Sandycove Island and similar events around Ireland. Swim Ireland and The Irish Sports Council have given me huge support and backing to continue on this path and thankfully it has all worked well for me.”
Byran (21), who is studying for a degree in Sports and Exercise Science at UL, competes in two events this week — the 10km today and the 5k on Friday. There is no uncertainty about his priority.
“Wednesday is my chief focus. This is an Olympic qualifying event, the other is solely a world championship race. The top 10 qualify for the Olympics. After that there are five places available, one per continent. But it is not like I will be looking up to see if any Europeans have qualified ahead of me. My focus is on trying for the top 10.”
But the sport is not without its dangers. Safety has become a major concern after the death of American Fran Crippen in the United Arab Emirates last year. Crippen, a six-time US national champion, died in October near the end of a 10K World Cup event in warm temperatures. No one noticed him slip beneath the surface and his body was not found until two hours later. Swimming’s world governing body, FINA has arranged early morning start times for the races but the water temperature is still expected near the newly recommended limit of 88 degrees.
Racers will be monitored by 12 safety boats at Jinshan City Beach, which is located about an hour’s drive from Shanghai while a state of the art sonar system is being employed for the first time.
An operator sitting on top of the system can clearly see anyone falling under the surface.
Bryan knows exactly what thoughts will run through his mind as he stands breathing deeply at the starting pontoon this morning.
“I will focus on the process of success. I have done everything right up to here.
“My confidence is high and my ambitions aren’t low.”