Nicholas Quinn: I hope Rio will be remembered for the results and not the controversies

Newstalk.com speaks to Irish Olympic swimmer Nicholas Quinn about Rio, controversies and the importance of support systems

Nicholas Quinn

Image: ©INPHO/Andrea Staccioli 

For a lot of reasons, the Rio 2016 Olympics have been positive from an Irish point of view. 

Annalise Murphy turned the heartbreak of 2012 to the silver medal success of 2016 in the sailing, while Paul and Gary O'Donovan pulled like dogs to claim silver in the rowing (and charmed the world along the way).

Diver Oliver Dingley finished in the top 10 of the 3m springboard after becoming the first diver in 68 years to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games. Thomas Barr ran a stunning 400m hurdle to finish just outside a medal place and set a new Irish record 47.97 seconds.

Away from the track, the pool and the springboard, controversies plagued the Games.

Suspect officiating in Olympic boxing was followed by the arrest of then-Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey in connection to the Olympic ticketing scandal.

With these factors in mind, how exactly will these Games be remembered in 50 years time?

"It’s hard to know," Irish Olympic swimmer Nicholas Quinn tells Newstalk.com. "Even looking back from the outside on face value, it seems like it was one of the most positives Olympics results-wise. Most people were top 20. We had people in top 10.

"We had Thomas [Barr] almost winning a medal and both pentathletes both seventh and eighth. We have more people at the top end than we have ever had before. I hope in 10 years time or 20 years time that’s what these Games will be remembered for all the distractions that the athletes had no control of. I hope that’s what the case will be. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one."

Nicholas Quinn on his way to victory in his 200m breaststroke heat. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan 

Quinn failed to progress through his heat in the 100m breaststroke and missed out on a spot in the semi-final of the 200m event despite winning his heat. The Castlebar native explained that although he didn't reach his goals, the support systems in place from his family and the rest of Team Ireland helped him make the most of his experience in Rio.

"Especially with all the gloom from the outside stuff, I definitely felt like it brought the athletes together. We had to just come together to ensure there was a positive atmosphere around the team. We weren’t being sidetracked by all that, we all just focused on performing as best as we could and then when we were finished competing, supporting the other athletes as best we could.

"We created this energising environment and then for the swimming part… Fiona [Doyle] was disappointed after her swim but that’s part of elite competition. That’s part of the Olympics.

"I think she dealt with it. She had her time when she was upset and she was entitled to have that time, but then she moved on. It never affected the team morale, but more that she thought 'OK, I didn’t get what I wanted from that but I’ll analyse it and move on'. It never affected team morale within the swimmers or in the broader Team Ireland.

"For Ireland I think that worked to our advantage that it was quite a small team. We all became really close knit and there was a really positive atmosphere. Everyone was there to support each other and get behind each other. For me that was one of the best parts of the Games. How much of a team atmosphere we created and how much we did get behind Team Ireland."

Shane Ryan was the only Irish swimmer to reach a semi-final in his respective event, but Quinn explains that on the whole, Irish swimming is in an extremely strong position.

"I think it’s one of the most positive things to take from the Olympics, from an aquatics perspective anyway. It was the most positive year we ever had. Everyone was in the top 20. We had Shane [Ryan] make a semi-final and we had Ollie [Dingley] in the final and finishing eighth. Me and Fiona were both inside the top 20. I don’t think we’ve ever had that before.

"I think Irish swimming and Irish aquatics is in the best position it’s ever been, not just because of the Olympics but if you look at our juniors. We’re winning more medals at European juniors, more medals at Youth Olympics, more medals than we’ve had at these junior events that we’ve ever had before and it’s about transition these guys into senior. We want them to keep improving and personally I feel very positive to be involved in Swim Ireland taking it forward."

As for his own performance, the student of Edinburgh University acknowledged there were still aspects of his performances that need work.

 "There’s always room for improvement. You never want to come out of the race and say that’s it, I can’t make any more improvements. I wanted to be in that semi-final. That was my goal and it was something that I always said.

"I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t do that but I was proud of my own performance from the point of view that I knew there was nothing else I could do in terms of preparation. In the lead-up I had done everything and had taken every step. Every decision I had made over the last year and a half or two years was made to put me in the best possible position.

"Once I realised that I just thought 'well there’s nothing else I could do and whatever happens in the race I’m going to be happy with’. It was what I wanted, to make a semi-final. But once you get into that mindset, you walk away happy regardless. That’s the best you can do at that given time."

Quinn also took time to visit schools around his home county as soon as he returned home to Ireland to talk about his experience.

"It’s amazing, the reception I got in Castlebar and in Mayo in general has been phenomenal. Even when I was out in Rio, the support I was getting was something I never imagined. I took the opportunity when I got home to get down to some of the schools to say thanks and to speak to the kids.

"You know, just to say thanks and if I can give any of them any sort of inspiration - not even necessarily in sport - then it’s definitely worth making that effort to go and visit some of the schools."

For now, the focus turns back to training come the end of the month which will see him right through to the end of the year and into February. His studies in psychology will continue and while his routine returns to normality, he'll allow himself to reflect on his time in Rio.

"The whole experience was amazing. I went out to the Olympics with a perception of what I thought it was going to be like and people tell you it’s bigger than the other competitions that you do. You take that on board and you think you know what you’re getting into but you don’t.

"It’s hard to describe without experiencing it but the whole thing was amazing."