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Brave Sycerika McMahon digs deep to shine again

By Steven Beacom

From the moment Sycerika McMahon dipped her toe in the pool as a young child, there was an understanding in the swimming fraternity in Northern Ireland that the girl had talent.

Now we know that the 17-year-old from Portaferry has character too.

The teenager was devastated on Sunday when, by her own admission, she had a hugely disappointing Olympic debut in the 100m breaststroke heats, missing out on the semi-finals and failing to record a personal best.

Sycerika was so upset that she didn't want to speak to the press after her race.

Given her tender years, one was concerned at how she would react to getting back in the pool so quickly. We need not have worried.

Sycerika shone, so much so that the crowd in the Aquatics Centre were roaring her home on the last length of the 200m Individual Medley.

Entering the heats the teenager, competing for Ireland, was the 30th quickest out of 34 qualifiers in the 200m IM which consists of 50m butterfly, 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke and 50m freestyle to finish. McMahon punched above her weight by finishing 22nd overall, coming home third in her heat from lane seven in a new personal best time of 2.14.76.

That time was half a second outside the top 16 who made the semi-finals, but it still represented quite a comeback for the youngster in her first Olympic Games.

And her breaststroke leg in particular impressed. Turning in fifth place after the butterfly and backstroke, she roared to the front much to the appreciation of a vociferous crowd.

Sycerika was much more pleased than she was on Sunday — and she had every right.

This experience will stand to her in the future because all things being equal we'll see her compete in the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 as a 21-year-old and possibly in 2020 too at the grand old age of 25.

I asked her how she felt after the race. “Extremely tired,” she said. Then came a beaming smile, which was in contrast to the tears in her eyes following the breaststroke. I gave it everything. That's what I came here to do. Obviously there are a a few things to polish up on but we'll sort them out in training for next time,” she added.

“My freestyle suffered a little at the end because I was so tired after giving it so much in the breaststroke but I can work on building my stamina for that last length. I'm just happy that I have given my best.”

Asked if she found the Olympic experience daunting, given her disappointing first race, McMahon said: “It's not difficult at all — it's a great experience. My main goal was to qualify for London and anything I did after that was a bonus. Unfortunately the 100m breaststroke wasn't what I expected it to be or wanted for that matter but there are plenty of things I can take away from it — positive and negative and use to improve myself.

“I wasn't exactly nervous but these things happen. I have to learn to get over disappointments and I felt I did that.

“I was disappointed with Sunday but this morning I got up and completely forgot about it and just focused on the 200IM. I'm glad I did otherwise that race would have suffered.

“I had to bounce back — there is no point in coming here if I'm not going to compete to my full ability. I guess that is part of being an athlete and that's what I did.”

Sycerika, supported by her family, says that the experience of London 2012 has made her hungry for more.

“I've loved it. This is by far my favourite place ever,” she said. “The atmosphere is so great here with all these champions at the top of their game in this sport. It's such a privilege for me to be here and experience it, to take part and also watch other races.

“Hopefully there will be a few more Olympics to come. You never know, you just have to take it one day at a time and see what happens really.

“My focus now is to go back to training and get better and be back competing with these guys shortly. There's so much that I've learnt. Watching the other swimmers with their techniques and stroke I can take that away and put it into my training. I also loved watching the finals and taking in the atmosphere.

“I really want to make to a final one day to experience it myself. This is the biggest competition I have ever been involved in and I have to learn to deal with that as well as the atmosphere.

“Now that I'm finished in London, my next big goal is to make it to Rio in four years time. Definitely that's what I'm aiming for. Hopefully I'll have improved drastically by then. I can't wait and am so excited about what is to come.”

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