Three-hundredths of a second. Not even that well-worn phrase 'blink of an eye' can be employed to accurately capture just how miniscule a period of time we’re talking about.
Three-hundredths of a second is what separates Sligo swimmer Mona McSharry from a place at this summer’s Tokyo Games.
Three-hundredths of a second is the fraction of time the 20-year-old former world junior champion will look to shave off her 100m breaststroke lifetime best at today’s Olympic trials in Abbotstown.
For probably too long McSharry obsessed about the fact that her personal best in her favoured event is all of .03 of a second shy of the Olympic standard.
After completing her Leaving Cert at Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon in the summer of 2019, McSharry deferred her freshman year in the States by 12 months. With little over a year to the Games, she didn’t want to uproot and move away from a programme and routine that had been the cornerstone of her success in previous years. America, she expected, would bring an adjustment period, possible changes to her stroke, and all of this sounded a touch too disruptive while trying to realise her Olympic dream.
Three weeks before last year’s Irish Olympic trials, Covid intervened to send the country into lockdown. Life — the Tokyo Games included — was put on hold.
Not wanting or willing to postpone college for a second year, McSharry flew out to the University of Tennessee last August, returning to Ireland for the first time earlier this month ahead of this week’s trials.
Notwithstanding the early bouts of homesickness and a Christmas spent far away from family, the adjustment period on the far side of the Atlantic was far smoother than she anticipated. And as for tweaking her stroke in an Olympic year, minor changes to her movement in the water helped her finish third in the 200 yards breaststroke at the NCAAs last month, with a second medal at the American college finals very nearly captured when McSharry touched for fourth in the 100 yards breaststroke.
Her spring endeavours stateside — which included breaking the University of Tennessee 100 and 200 breaststroke records previously held by 2016 Olympian Molly Hannis — mean she’s in confident spirits back on home soil as those three-hundredths of a second again become her sole focus.
This week’s trials do not represent last chance saloon where Olympic qualification is concerned. Irish swimmers will have a final opportunity at a nominated meet in June should they miss out on the required time over the coming days.
But for the youngster from the village of Grange, the goal is very much to get the job done this week.
Her 100m breaststroke PB is 1.07.10, which she swam when winning gold at the 2017 world junior championships. The ticket to Tokyo is 1.07.07.
“I don't just want to swim the qualification time, I'd love to go faster,” the multiple Irish record holder remarks.
“I haven't swam my PB in quite a while so it is definitely going to be a challenge, but I know I am capable of doing it and after such a great year over in the States where I had something else to focus on in getting a chance to swim yards and learn how to compete rather than race just to get a time, I am really excited to bring that back and swim as fast as I can.”
Rather than shy away from verbalising her belief that she can better her time, McSharry, without a hint of arrogance in her tone, is embracing the challenge in front of her.
“This is something I have been talking about for so long. I think it is the fact that I know I can do it and that puts a lot of pressure on myself. And then I used to be afraid to say, ‘yes, I am going to qualify, I am going to do it, I feel confident’, because once you tell people that, then that is what they are expecting. But, you know, I just have to be confident and I think that's really important.
“Something I have learned is not to be afraid. If you are confident and you don't make it, okay, you can try harder [next time], but I am not going to shy away from saying that this is something I want to do.
“It is definitely nerve-wracking, but I am trying to be really, really positive and focus on all the work I have done and the fact that I think I can do it. It is important to be confident and know what you are capable of.”
The 2019 European senior short-course bronze medallist will also be in the pool for the 200m breaststroke, her PB of 2.27.44 just under two seconds outside the Olympic qualifying time.
Once she’s done at the National Aquatic Centre, she’ll make west for Sligo, having not been home to Grange or her favourite swimming spots of Mullaghmore and Streedagh beach since leaving for Tennessee last August. The hope is she’ll return as an Olympian in waiting.