Flagstaff camp helps put 'icing on the cake' for O'Connor

7 Feb 2020

For Siobhan-Marie O'Connor, the recent altitude training camp in the United States was just the latest step on her ongoing journey in swimming - and it is a journey she continues to treasure. 

O'Connor was one of the 16 athletes to take part in an intense three-week schedule at the Hypo2 High Performance Sport Centre in Flagstaff, Arizona - the eighth such camp of the current Olympic cycle. 

The Rio 2016 silver medallist has experienced the altitude work before - "I started going to Flagstaff when I was 15, it's sort of like a home away from home" - although she feels the most recent setup was the best of the lot. 

A strong way to start a big year, then.

"It was a really, really good camp, it's such a great group and the facilities there are amazing," said O'Connor, now back in training at the National Centre in Loughborough after returning from Stateside on February 1. 

"It's really hard work, but it's the perfect place to train - the pool, the gym, everything is so good up there. 

British swimmers in training at the altitude camp in Flagstaff, Arizona
The British swimmers are put through their paces at Flagstaff

"The group and the environment they've created over the camps is great. This was the eighth of the cycle - I've not done all of them but I've done quite a few, they were really good and this one was probably the best one we've been on. As a whole, the camp just ran so smoothly." 

The pool and land-based altitude training in Flagstaff is aimed at providing key physiological boosts for the swimmers as they continue preparing for Olympic trials at the British Championships in April. 

But there is much more to the trip than individuals totting up the lengths, as O'Connor points out. 

For the Olympic, world and European medallist, the shared experiences both in and out of the water, alongside teammates and support staff, mean so much and provide what she likes to call the "icing on the cake - along with performances". 

"There's two parts to it. When you stand up on the block, yes you are the one standing there, but it's a team effort - it takes so many people to make a great athlete perform," she added.

Flagstaff altitude camp team picture
The athletes who attended the latest British Swimming altitude camp

"There is that, and we have some of the best support staff in the world in British Swimming. We are in such a fortunate position that the staff we have working for the team are the best in the world in their field, so that's incredible.

"Then the other part of it is the people you surround yourself with, the friends you make in training and on your team, that's the icing on the cake for the journey. 

"It is so much about the journey. That's the one thing I've realised as I've got older, and I posted about it on Instagram the other day, because as I've got older I've realised these are such amazing opportunities.

"It's hard work when you go on camp. It's tough, it's gruelling and you feel like death most of the time, you just feel terrible. But it's actually so much fun when you go away with a group of friends, people you get on with so well, you get to experience these cool things together. 

"It is an amazing opportunity, and the people you share it with is the icing on the cake, along with the performances."

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor European Short Course Champs 2019
O'Connor in action at the 2019 European Short Course Championships

The next notable date in O'Connor's swimming calendar comes later this month, when she is set to compete in the McCullagh International meet in Northern Ireland (February 20th-23rd). 

That, just like the Flagstaff camp and the Loughborough-based training in between, will be another stint of work set to prepare her and her teammates for April's crucial national event.

"We have got a couple of competitions before trials, to warm up for the trials," she said.

"They are prep competitions. One of them is the meet in Ireland where we're going to be doing morning finals and afternoon heats, which is going to be the layout for the Olympics, should we make it.

"That should be fun, it'll be interesting and really good to get a practice of doing that for if we hopefully qualify.

"It's just about a lot of really hard training, trying to get in the best shape possible for April, because everyone is going to be on their game. 

"It's going to be really hard to qualify for the team - but I'm excited about it." 

Tickets are now available to make sure you are in the stands to see who can secure their Olympic spot at the British Swimming Championships, back at the London Aquatics Centre for the first time since 2015.

Click HERE to get involved and bag your seat.