Sky Scholar Siobhan-Marie O'Connor on rollercoaster ride to Olympic swimming glory
By Mark Ashenden
Last Updated: 19/09/17 7:31am
It's been quite a journey from a nervy junior, coping with long-term stomach illness, to 11 months of intense Olympic preparation and gracing the Rio podium.
Still only 21, Siobhan-Marie O'Connor is now plotting more silverware at her third Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
Thanks to four years of support as a Sky Sports Scholar, Bath's pool warrior has learned to deal with whatever life throws at her.
It's such a shame my Scholarship is ending. I am sad but just so happy it's happened.
I have grown up so much as a person and as an athlete over these four years as a Scholar. It's been a whirlwind.
Making the London Olympics was an incredible experience and then I joined the Scholarship and every year I've gone from strength to strength.
I've become much more confident and it's been such a big transition from junior to senior and the Scholarship has played a massive part of that. I slowly got to grips with what I was doing with my programmes changing and me adapting.
After London 2012 I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (a debilitating bowel condition) and that's been a major thing I've learned to deal with.
I've had lots of ups and downs and they've all been absolutely vital in my development and that's allowed me to swim as well as I did in Rio. The time and position I achieved to win silver was a result of all those ups and downs and the lessons finding out what worked for me as an athlete.
Some of those tough times made me feel rubbish, but last year at the Olympics I knew exactly what I had to do to swim well.
My lowest point was after the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The actual week of competition was amazing - I won six medals and a gold and surpassed all my expectations. Then I had a flare-up with my tummy and decided against going to the Europeans Championships.
I was devastated but it made me realise I wasn't indestructible and I had to be careful with my health.
I knew I was swimming well but not going and putting my health first was the best decision I could have made. It was a big step and I learnt if you keep pushing through the pain and ignoring it you can make it worse. That was huge for me.
Tony Lester was my main mentor and he's been brilliant with all the advice. He's such an experienced coach and gave me that outside perspective.
In 2015 we took out recovery weeks from my training and with our pool being renovated, my programme was all over the place. Without a main base, I was living out of a suitcase, working hard and not recovering properly.
I spoke to Tony a lot about recovering and he gave me lots of information on the science of training and resting.
Having more rest in the Olympic year was brilliant and I swam so much better. In the build-up to Rio Tony helped me mentally prepare for the Olympic village and dealing with nerves. He was also one of the first people I spoke to after I won my medal - the support and advice has been amazing.
Winning the medal at Rio has been the greatest thing for me. The Olympics is the pinnacle of what we do in swimming but I haven't got too big for my boots!
Swimmers usually have huge respect for others and are very grounded - even Michael Phelps who's the best ever. It's such a gruelling sport and most of us don't do it for the accolades. We just love doing it.
I've been brought up with lovely parents who have taught me how to win graciously and to lose even more graciously. It's great to get the rewards and coming back from Rio was amazing with all that support, but being respectful is very important to me.
After developing as a Scholar and adapting as a swimmer, Rio was the first time I thought 'I can do this'. The Commonwealth Games gave me confidence and that was the first time I felt I could perform on a major stage.
But the World Championships didn't go to plan and I constantly had self-doubts. Every athlete goes through that but you have to have self-belief when you stand on the blocks. You have voices in your head asking 'are you good enough?'
Rio changed that. My time of 2 mins 6 secs in the 200m IM final has given me so much confidence and the hunger to do even more over the next few years. I will be 24 at Tokyo 2020 so fingers crossed I will win more medals.
Even though I lost to my Hungarian rival Katinka Hosszu I had the perfect race and I have no regrets. One day I want to beat her - she holds the world record - but I'm just going to keep on chasing.
After the hype around Team GB last summer, I didn't want too much pressure on myself this year because I was very stressed before Rio and I'd been swimming for 11 months - I've tried to get more of a balance.
The Scholarship has been phenomenal. When I look back when I'm older I will see it as some of the best four years of my life. I've made some amazing friends with the Scholars and the media training has been wonderful. Any athlete would dream of this opportunity and working in an incredible team at Sky. I feel so honoured and lucky.