Rio 2016: Brazil beckons for Fiona Doyle
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Rio 2016: Brazil beckons for Fiona Doyle

For Fiona Doyle, a dream is set to be realised. Barring injury or some other form of misfortune, she will represent Ireland at the Olympics in Rio next summer.

The 23-year-old Limerick native, who studies at the University of Calgary, is the first Irish swimmer to qualify for the 2016 event having set an ‘A’ qualification time at the World University Games in South Korea last week.

Set in the semi-final of the women’s 100m breaststroke, Doyle’s time also saw her progress to the final, where she took bronze. And to top off the best week of her young career, she went one better in the 50m event, taking silver.

She might be in this business to win medals, but when it comes to the Olympic Games the taking part is on another level to any podium.

“It’s always fantastic getting on the podium but I would have to say qualifying for the Olympics [is my biggest achievement] because it’s been a dream of mine since I was 12 years old,” she told The Irish Post.

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“To finally have done it, it really hasn’t sunk in yet that I actually got the qualifying time, but it’s a really good feeling.

“I went to these games mainly focussing on bringing a medal back but I came into it knowing that if all goes well I should actually get the time, but at the same time there’s always that weight on the back of your mind.

“When I got the time, I was like ‘oh’, and it felt like a weight I didn’t even realise was there had been lifted.”

fiona-doyle-n Fiona Doyle: The moment of realisation

Next up for Doyle is the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August, which will be the biggest sporting event the city has hosted since the 2008 Olympics.

Although she set a personal best with her time of 1:07.67 in the 100m breaststroke last Monday, Doyle is convinced she can go quicker, which bodes well for her podium chances in China.

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“I didn’t have the perfect race last Monday night, there are a lot of things that I can improve on,” she said.

“But coming into the World Championships having set the time, knowing that I didn’t have the perfect race here means that I’m confident of improvement. The goal is to improve on it and see what happens in the worlds.”

The key to Doyle’s new-found success has been a simple change in attitude. A more positive frame of mind has coincided with the best spell of her career, and she no longer looks at her peers and heroes with envy.

“I went through a phase where I was blaming everything but myself,” she said. “But now I accept that if something goes wrong it’s my fault and I need to do something to fix it.

“My whole attitude has changed. Instead of looking at what other people had, and wanting what other people had, I started to look at what I wanted and what I want to go after. So why can’t I, if others have it, why not me?

“It’s also a reminder for me to sit back and look at what I want and not what other people have.”

Speaking of heroes and achievements, Doyle tends to be inspired by female athletes, and it comes with great pride that she is currently flying the flag for both her country and her gender.

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“Katy Taylor is one I look up to,” Doyle said of the current Irish, European, World and Olympic Champion boxer. “She set her goals and she’s done everything she could possibly do to try and achieve them and she’s been extremely successful.

“She’s a fantastic representative for Ireland, particularly in a sport that is not particularly well known for its female athletes.

“Derval O’Rourke is another who stands out, but there are a number, although I do feel sometimes like female athletes don’t get enough credit compared to the men in Ireland, because they’re not as high-profile as those in the GAA or soccer.

“So when we are successful – like when Katy won her medal at Baku – it’s always fantastic to see them do well in the media because it means that women are getting more coverage, and I feel that that’s important.”

Studying and training in Calgary, Canada, Doyle doesn’t get many opportunities to visit her large family in Limerick, but she has no plans to return to Ireland after her studies.

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“Of course I do,” she laughed, when asked if she ever misses home. “I’m really close to my family – I have a twin sister and four other siblings and I miss them a lot, but it helps that I’m happy.

“I’m happy with how my swimming is going, I’m happy in Canada, I have a fantastic support group around me.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without them but it’s always nice to get home and see everybody. I miss my friends too, but nothing can top family. I wish they could have been here to watch me in South Korea, but they were watching back home.”

And we’ll all be watching too when she takes to the biggest stage of all in Rio next summer.