Nicholas Quinn: ‘I always saw Olympians as heroes, superhumans. Something else altogether’

Swimmer Nicholas Quinn on qualifying for Rio, punishing training regimes, and supporting Newcastle United.


Q: Has it all sunk in that you will be competing at the Olympics yet?


I think it has and it hasn’t. I know it’s happening but I still don’t know quite what it is going to be like.

I have an idea what it is going to be like in my head but I feel like when I do get there I’ll just feel, ‘right, it’s much bigger than I expected’.

Q: When did the Olympics become something for you to aim for?


I never had a light-bulb moment. It’s mad. I don’t remember Athens at all but I remember watching Sydney because my brother was big into it and he is older than me, so I was just following him.

I remember Ian Thorpe was just amazing. Even Beijing, I remember watching Andrew Bree in the 200m breaststroke and just missing out on the final and thinking it was unreal, but it was quite late when I first thought I could do this.

I always saw Olympians as heroes, superhumans. Something else altogether. Even watching Katie Taylor in 2012. I never thought I could do that.

Q: So when did that start to really change?


I moved over to college in Edinburgh just in the lead-up to London in 2012 and that was never on my radar. I was never in a position to qualify but I knew then that I would swim all the way through college and that it would lead me through to 2016.

I was going to swim anyways and if I was in a position to qualify, then great, and if I wasn’t, then I was going to enjoy myself trying before moving on to something else.

Q: So when did it start to become something tangible?


About two years ago, I was still improving, and I didn’t even know what the qualifying time was. But I reckoned that, whatever it was, I could push for it unless it was something stupid.

From then, I knew that up to April of this year was going to be my chance to qualify. Everything the last two years was pointed towards that.

Q: Edinburgh has been good for you?


I was really lucky. I landed on my feet going to Edinburgh. My brother just suggested one day that Edinburgh had a good swimming pool because he was in college in Dundee.

I went over for a visit and it’s great. I train in two different pools, a long course and a short course, and I live right in the middle and within a mile radius of the campus and the city centre. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

My coach over there is Chris Jones. He has taken me on and I have learned a lot from him.

Q: You’ve played Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, and basketball as well?


I played everything when I was younger. Hurling was the main one, I kept that going alongside swimming as long as I could.

I would have been about 15. I wasn’t training as much as I should but I would still turn up for the odd match. I played Gaelic with Castlebar Mitchells as well until maybe U12s.

Q: So why swimming?


I guess it’s the standard story in that my brother and sister both swam. We love the sea. My family had been going to the beach at Lecanvey a lot of the time up in Mayo. My dad used to go diving so we would spend two hours jumping off the pier or going fishing or something like that.

My brother and sister went to learn to swim in the club in Castlebar and I followed them. I did okay when I was younger and that helped me stay in the sport. I’m pretty competitive and dropped the other sports.

Q: It’s not an easy life. What’s with all those 5am starts? And are they a help or a hindrance?


You have to be in class so it’s more that logistics dictate that. We change our pool times to later in the morning when we finish college. You’re body isn’t ready to perform at five in the morning.

All your hormones and everything … it takes about four hours for you to get going and they say that males don’t peak until about six in the evening. Rio is good for swimming fast in the mornings as its 12 (midday) local time so you can get up at eight and let yourself wake up naturally.

Q: You’re studying psychology. Has that helped you as an athlete in any way?


Definitely. You pick up pieces here and there. You learn to be able to take a step back from it. If you look at a big picture like swimming at the Olympics you could get overwhelmed by the whole thing, so you take it day by day.

It’s a cliché but it is true. If I do the best I can do every day, make the right decisions, I know when I stand on the blocks that I can just relax.

Q: Has the psychology helped you to understand why you support Newcastle United?

I dunno. I don’t even remember the Kevin Keegan era. I wish I did. It would give me something to hold on to. I know my cousin supported them but I don’t remember making a conscious decision to follow them. I’ve stuck with them now through thin and thin. I get down to a couple of games from Edinburgh.

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