After some promising signs towards the end of last year, notably claiming a silver medal in the 200m individual medley at the European Short Course Championships in December, O’Connor’s performances since the turn of the year have made her arguably the stand-out British swimmer in the past few months.
The Sky Academy Sports Scholar won her first two British titles at the British Gas Swimming Championships in Glasgow earlier this month in the 200IM and the 200m freestyle, as well as taking the silver in the 100m butterfly. Those medals are added to four golds won at the Berlin International Meet in March and a whole host of new personal bests recorded in recent weeks.
This year I’ve been sitting around the 2:10 mark and last year I was as well so it was quite a nice barrier to break and go under, getting a 2:09
Since competing at London 2012, O’Connor has enjoyed some success but seems to have found a new level of late - and the consistency to go with it - and that is something she puts down to certain adjustments in her training regime.
“I’ve always worked hard in training but I’ve changed a few things just to suit myself and as you get older you learn more about your body and what you need,” she explained. “As you get older your body changes as well so I’ve adapted to that.
“I knew I needed to get stronger in the gym as well and I think definitely this year I focused a lot on that side of things whereas before I always had the speed in the pool (but) I needed to have power in the gym to be able to pull it home in the last 100m as the girls who were bigger than me were able to do.”
The 18-year-old is delighted with the set-up at Team Bath and the support she receives to help boost her performances in the pool. It is in other areas that O’Connor has arguably looked to make the biggest changes though.
“I’m really happy with how things are going with training,” she said. “The programme we’ve got in Bath is incredible; it’s got everything I need. I’ve not just been working on training but different aspects of my lifestyle and trying to lead a more professional lifestyle away from the pool.
“Looking at what I eat and managing my time better, everything that helps because it is quite hard balancing training and all the different commitments that come with that. But I’m really happy with how things are going, it’s been a great season so far and my 200m freestyle was my first British title. I’ve always been there or thereabouts so it was great to win a couple of races.”
I always had the speed in the pool (but) I needed to have power in the gym to be able to pull it home in the last 100m as the girls who were bigger than me were able to do
Despite winning the 200IM title in an English record time, and the second fastest time in the world this year, O’Connor is confident she can significantly improve on the 2:09.71 that she set in Glasgow. A statement that will no doubt give her rivals something to think about with the Commonwealth Games and European Championships looming large on the horizon.
“I thought I had that time in me so I was just happy that I was able to pull it out of that bag,” O’Connor added. “This year I’ve been sitting around the 2:10 mark and last year I was as well so it was quite a nice barrier to break and go under, getting a 2:09.
“It was a race that I still don’t think I did very well in strategically. I tried to go out a bit slower but I actually went out faster than I ever have - but I think that was just adrenaline. I didn’t have a lot the last 50m and looking at my splits there’s definitely room for improvement so I think that’s a massive confidence boost as well.
“I think I just need to learn that when I’m feeling good, not to push it too much in the first 100m and to ease back even more because I’m going to go out fast. When I race the girls on the international stage they’re going to be able to come back very, very hard and I can’t afford to have absolutely nothing in the final 25m because they’ll come past me.”