2016 is Olympic year and so Irish swimming, along with the raft of other sports whose successes and failures over the past three years went largely ignored by the Irish public, will move centre stage as the countdown to Rio gathers pace.
Doyle is the sole Irish swimmer presently qualified for next summer’s Games and while she expects to be joined at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on the second week of August by at least one or two more green caps, hers will be the name each household is mildly familiar with.
The 24-year old Limerick native narrowly missed out on the London Games in 2012 and while she didn’t watch much of the pool action through nothing more than sheer bitterness, she can still recall the misfortune endured by Gráinne Murphy and Melanie Nocher. Murphy, in particular, was considered an outside medal contender. A bout of glandular fever, however, saw the Wexford prodigy finish 10 seconds off her best in the heats of the 400m freestyle and subsequently withdraw from her remaining three events. Nocher, meanwhile, was struck down by a stomach bug mid-competition and failed to make an impression in the backstroke.
Largely unheard of beforehand, criticised during and forgotten afterwards; Doyle has her eyes wide open to the potentially vicious cycle that lies in wait.
“My heart went out to both Melanie and Gráinne because you are being watched by the whole world essentially. You want to perform. When things don’t go right, it is heartbreaking. And then you have to talk to people about how you feel. It is hard.
“The Olympics only come around once every four years so you are nervous, you are excited. You have all these emotions going through you and all you want to do at the end of the day is perform to the best of your ability because this is what you have trained for all of your life. In the back of your mind, though, there is always that little bit of ‘oh God, what are people going to think if I don’t perform well?’ Are they going to be upset? Are they going to say, ‘where did she come from?’ There is always going to be that little bit of anxiety.”
Doyle secured her place in Rio when qualifying from the semi-finals of 100m breaststroke at the World University Games in July. A lifetime best of 1.07.15 in the final delivered a bronze medal, with a silver to follow in the 50m breaststroke. The target next August is to at least make the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke. She’s no interest in simply filling a lane.
“We are not just going for fun. You don’t just show up and think ‘I am going to have a little bit of a holiday’. This is what you’ve trained your whole life for. People tend to forget that.
“If you make the semi-finals; that is the top 16 in the world. People tend to forget how fantastic that is. If you are top 16 in the world in golf, everyone knows who you are. 10,000 athletes will go to the Olympic Games. Of those 10,000, only 900 are swimmers. Of that 900, half are female swimmers. There are several hundred times that figure of people swimming in Ireland alone.
“People forget what it actually takes to get there; how much time, effort and money it takes. The moment you stand up on those blocks, you just hope that everything falls into place. That is your one and only chance.
“If anything goes wrong, that is it. Game over. I am excited to show people what I can do and I’m excited for Irish swimming in 2016. I think it is going to be a fantastic year.” 2015 wasn’t half bad either, mind you. Although disappointed to miss out on a semi-final spot at the World Championships in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke – she finished one place outside qualifying over the shorter distance, her medal-winning performances in Gwangju at the World University Games dominate a fairly positive report card.
Resident at the University of Calgary since September 2010, the multiple Irish record holder sat the final exam of her Human Kinesiology studies on the Friday before Christmas. She enjoyed a nine-day stint at home before returning to Canada where she will continue to train at the university ahead of Rio.
“I was living and training in Dublin when I made the decision to go to Canada. I didn’t really get on with the coach in Limerick at the time so I had already made that move from home. I didn’t settle in Dublin, though. It was a tough decision to make because you are leaving your family, your support systems and the comforts of home. I knew I needed to shift away from Ireland and situations that were going on there at the time. Swim Ireland weren’t quite at where they are now. Moving here has been fantastic. I have been less homesick here than I was in Dublin. Steve Price encouraged me to go over and when I got there, Mike Blondal and others took me under their wing.
“It has been an absolutely fantastic five and a half years. Training now is about fine-tuning the little things and becoming comfortable with knowing that I can go fast, being comfortable with standing up on the blocks and having that attitude ‘yeah, no problem, I can go low 1.07. I can do that’. I am getting there, getting there slowly.”