Swimming sensation Katie Shanahan was Team GB’s most decorated athlete at the Baku 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) as she returned a highly impressive six-medal haul. The 15-year-old, who won three golds in the 400m individual medley, 200m individual medley and 200m backstroke, as well as three silvers in the 4x100m mixed medley relay, 4x100m mixed medley relay and 4x100m freestyle relay, has enjoyed a truly outstanding season.
The City of Glasgow swimmer claimed bronze in the 400m individual medley at the Kazan 2019 European Junior Championships, just a fortnight prior to Baku, and has broken a series of records at British, Scottish and European level throughout this year. Her main long-term aim is to step up and represent Team GB at future Olympic Games with the trials for Tokyo 2020 now in her sights.
Here, Katie, currently supported by SportsAid Scotland, reflects on her recent successes, the key achievements of her career so far and talks about her love of dance....
How did you feel after returning from the European Youth Olympics with so many medals? Did you have any expectations at the start of the competition?
“I was so pleased and proud to have come away from the European Youth Olympics with six medals. There was a bit of expectation riding on me as I had medalled at European Juniors. The European Youth Olympics was my last meet of the season so I knew I just had to put everything into it. I was most pleased with my 200m backstroke. It was probably one of the best moments of the meet. I wasn’t expecting to win it at all as the Italian girl had won European Juniors just weeks before and her time was fast. This was the first time I'd had the opportunity to swim this event on its own and not in the middle of a heavy training programme - or a big competition schedule - so I just decided to go for it and see what I could do. When I looked up at the board and saw that I had not only won, but had broken the European Youth Olympics record, I was over the moon and to later learn that I'd broken the British age-group record made it even better.”
How pleased were you with your performances at the European Junior Championships at the beginning of July?
“European Juniors was such a great experience. It was my first international meet representing Great Britain. There wasn’t any pressure on me especially as I'd just turned 15 and was one of the youngest members of the squad. I really enjoyed training alongside some of the older swimmers and with different coaches but to come away with a bronze medal in the 400m individual medley was such a proud moment.”
You’ve broken numerous records this year. What do those moments mean to you?
“I am really happy to have broken so many Scottish, British and European Youth Olympic records throughout the summer. I don't set out to break them and to be honest it's my coaches who know what they are, not me. However, it really means a lot to me when I do break them because it means that what my coach and I are doing in training is paying off. It's even better to have broken records that have stood for so long like Hannah Miley's Scottish junior 400m individual medley record. That had stood for 14 years. It would be a bonus if I could continue to break records in the new season. I know what I have to do and I know I'm capable of going faster so fingers crossed!”
Are there particular inspirations or sporting heroes you’ve looked up to over the years?
“My main inspiration in swimming is Katinka Hosszú as she does multiple events like myself and she’s been number one in the world for many years. I'm inspired by her work ethic and the fact that she consistently produces great times and swims. I was lucky enough to meet her in June when I was competing at Mare Nostrum in Barcelona.”
What have been the key achievements during your career up to now? And what are your main aims for the year ahead?
“On top of being selected for the teams going to Kazan and Baku, I've been fortunate to be selected by Scottish Swimming to compete at Oporto, Ontario and Barcelona so already my swimming career has allowed me to travel and I'm very grateful for that. I've achieved so much already in breaking records at different levels, competing against world-class swimmers such as Hannah Miley and Aimee Wilmott, and gaining titles at junior and senior levels. In the year ahead my main focus is the Olympic trials in April in London. I'd hope to be in the mix with the senior swimmers who will be aiming for the consideration times for Tokyo. I'm definitely hoping to be back on another European Junior team in 2020.”
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far?
“I've been really fortunate that so far in my swimming career things have gone well. However, at my first British Championships in Edinburgh in 2018, I became really unwell with a virus. It was the February of the really bad snow and it had taken us six hours to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I swam in the heats of the 400m individual medley and made the junior final but after the race my legs didn't feel right and I just felt awful! I had to pull out of the final, and the rest of my events, and was stuck in a hotel room, in the snow, for days! It took me a long time to recover and gain my fitness and stamina back.”
What is your main long-term ambition?
“My main long-term ambition is to represent Team GB at an Olympic Games and to bring home a medal. The European Youth Olympics was my first experience of a multi-sport event and I loved being in the Athletes Village and meeting athletes from different sports. It felt more relaxed in Baku as there was always people milling about the village and lots to do when we had down time. However, I had 4 doping tests while I was out there so that was a new experience and one I've learned from.”
Which experiences have you learnt the most from up to now?
“Travelling to Russia and Azerbaijan was an experience in itself but European Juniors and the European Youth Olympics have to be the two competitions that I have enjoyed and learned the most from. It was my first experience of swimming in heats, semi-finals and finals - and with such strong competition it was tough to step up each time. I learned so much from these competitions but especially how to cope with being in another country, in different conditions that weren’t always the best. It was also great to work with new coaches and to make new friends from swimming clubs throughout Britain.”
What difference has SportsAid support made to you?
“I am so grateful for the support SportsAid has given me - especially recognising my potential and celebrating my success. The funding is a huge help as it is really costly to travel to meets and next year we have quite a few trips away already on the calendar.”
Which other commitments do you have to balance alongside swimming?
“Alongside swimming, I also dance. I have been dancing since I was four-years-old at the same dance school. It's something I enjoy but it's also great strength and conditioning as we focus on ballet. When I have spare time I like going to the cinema. This school year I will be sitting NAT 5s so I hope to be able to continue to do what I enjoy but also do well in exams. My school has been very supportive and teachers always take time to go over material that I've missed if I've been away competing. You have to be really organised and good at time management when you're an athlete so you can fit everything in and achieve in all areas of your life. It’s tiring sometimes.”
How important has the support of your family and coaching team been to you in pursuing your sporting ambitions?
“The support of my family and coaching team have been amazing. I would definitely not be where I am today without their support. I am lucky to have such a good relationship with my coaches Danielle Brayson and Ian Wright. I trust them 100%. My family have been the best support. It's hard for everyone when there's a swimmer in the house because the 4.30am alarm calls aren't nice and it also means early bedtimes for me which leads to everyone else being very quiet!! I think my brother would also prefer to be eating pizza and chips instead of the healthy meals we have! A big thank you to everyone who supports me.”
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