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Coronavirus won't stop my preparation for Olympic mission, says defiant swim star Danielle Hill



Raising bar: Swimmer Danielle Hill is training in her back garden

Raising bar: Swimmer Danielle Hill is training in her back garden

Making waves: Irish record holder Danielle Hill in action

Making waves: Irish record holder Danielle Hill in action

�INPHO/Bryan Keane


Raising bar: Swimmer Danielle Hill is training in her back garden

Everything was perfectly in tune, the three-week countdown to peak with Omega-timing precision was smoothly ticking as Danielle Hill zoned in on Olympic qualification at the Irish Championships. Then came the call, the dreaded message that mission Tokyo was on hold.

The 20-year-old had set a new Irish record for the 100m backstroke last month at the Dave McCullagh meet in Bangor, leaving her 0.75 seconds away from the FINA A qualification mark which would book her fitting for the Olympic blazer. The Irish Championships were going to come at the right time only for Covid-19 to intervene, leading to the gala being postponed.

It would have been easy for the Newtownabbey woman to feel crushed by the news but she has already shown her true grit by coming back from a freak injury in 2018 when she dislocated her shoulder as she touched the wall in a training session. The news only got worse as the closure of the University of Ulster also meant her strength and conditioning work at the Sports Institute of NI was shut down.

A triple whammy of knockbacks was completed when the swim school she worked for, run by Danielle's coach Peter Hill (no relation), had to end due to the announcement of all schools being forced to close down.

"I was getting £100 a week from the swim school - that's all I was living off because I don't receive any funding so that was a big blow," said Danielle, who despite being left in limbo - along with fellow Olympic hopeful and training partner Conor Ferguson - is determined to stay on track for her chance to make it to Tokyo.

A solution had to be found to her critical gym work and dad David came to the rescue along with her SINI coach Ryan Keating.

"Ryan sent me home with a bar, the weights I needed and kettle bells and I have to video him the work-out so he knows I'm doing it. So I could do it properly, my dad built decking in the back garden so my gym work hasn't been disrupted," she added.

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"I can continue doing my work-outs three times a week, following the programme that Ryan has given me and I am very grateful to BRA because although the school is closing they have kept the pool open so me and Conor Ferguson can keep up all our eight sessions a week and the other swimmers in the club fit around that.


Making waves: Irish record holder Danielle Hill in action

Making waves: Irish record holder Danielle Hill in action

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Making waves: Irish record holder Danielle Hill in action


"I really can't thank my coach Peter, BRA, the club, Ryan and my family enough because it was very hard to hear the chance to qualify for the Olympics was halted, but they have been so supportive and kept me in such a positive frame of mind.

"This virus isn't going to stop me from being at my best for whenever the call does come to tell me when the qualification event will be.

"I just hope the Olympics does go ahead, even if it is behind closed doors, because I know the shape I'm in. I could feel coming off my hard work heading into the taper for the Irish Championships that my body was in a new place. My body had never felt so wrecked with all the work I had done and I knew after the three weeks I would be ready to get the time. I was ready for the race of my life."

The flame-haired backstroker has been expertly guided by coach Hill, who immediately got to work on changing her programme to make sure she continues to maintain the right level of fitness without over-training and consequently ruining the Olympic dream they have both had for a number of years.

Danielle is quick to point to the impact Hill has had on her career, developing her strong mindset as well as carefully planning her physical development from junior to accomplished senior performer.

"Peter is one of the top coaches in Ireland. He has been planning this moment for me for four years. It has been a four-year cycle," she said.

"All the hard work that nobody sees has all been about this opportunity.

"I know the cancellation of the Championships was just as hard a pill for him to swallow as it was for me. He has a great passion for the sport and for seeing his athletes fulfil their potential.

"Peter goes into so much detail that he can call up an Excel document of every piece of data about the amount of sleep I've had and my training scores over years… it's his pride and joy.

"Peter is giving everything he can to make my dreams come true and I'm doing everything asked of me so you really can't ask for more than that.

"Now he has given me a programme to keep my fitness at the right level. He doesn't want to up the volume too much and leave me open to getting sick. We're working on an aerobic base that makes it feel like I'm starting the season all over again but knowing that it could well be just another eight weeks and then hopefully I'll get word about when I will be going for that Olympic time.

"With all the support I have around me, I know I can do it."

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