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Interview: British swimmer Siobhan-Marie O'Connor

Sports Mole chats to British swimmer Siobhan-Marie O'Connor about her successful year at the World Championships and plans moving forward.

Most 19-year-olds are at university or starting to establish themselves in the working world, but one particular teenager is already a senior member of the British Swimming team, a position that she holds leading into next summer's Olympic Games in Rio.

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor has graced the podium 11 times over the past two years - her successes coming in gold and silver form at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and a bronze in the 200m medley against the world's best in Kazan earlier this year.

The Bath-based swimmer also made history alongside Adam Peaty, Fran Halsall and Chris Walker-Hebborn by overcoming relay giants USA to claim gold in the 4x100m relay in Russia.

O'Connor's achievements have resulted in a nomination for the Sunday Times and Sky Sports Young Sportswoman of the Year award, and Sports Mole caught up with the swimmer to reflect on 2015 and Britain's hopes for Olympic gold.

Bronze medalist Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Great Britain during the medal ceremony for the Women's 200m Individual Medley on day ten of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 3, 2015© Getty Images

Congratulations on being nominated for Young Sportswoman of the Year. This is the second year in a row that you've been shortlisted, that must feel quite special.

"Yeah, it is really special. Last year I was absolutely gutted that I couldn't go to the event, but this year I'm able to go so I'm really excited. It's great to be able to go and see my sporting heroes all in one room to celebrate women's sport - I think it's massively important. I'm honoured to be shortlisted for the young award because there's some great girls on there and it's very nice to have my achievements recognised this year by such a huge company like The Times and Sky, who have done so much for me."

You managed to improve on your successful year in 2014 by winning two medals at the World Championships. Were you always confident of medalling when you went to Kazan?

"Well, 2014 was an amazing year. It was such a great experience going to Glasgow - it went so much better than I ever thought it could, but the Commonwealth Games are a completely different challenge to the World Championships. The Worlds are a much bigger stage of swimming so I knew it was going to be really tough. We had a very challenging year, with being here, there and everywhere because of the pool closure in Bath, so I knew it was going to be a challenge to go to Kazan and do what I wanted to do.

"I sat down with my coach (Dave McNulty) at the beginning of the year and said that I've got to target medals this year. I was absolutely over the moon to come away with a bronze and the gold in the 4x100m mixed medley relay was a huge added bonus. We weren't going in there expecting to win it at all. It just showed our strength and depth in the team - it was such an amazing experience to win that and take the world record. I was over the moon!"

You were going up against tough opposition in Kazan, did it give you an idea of what to expect at the Olympics?

"Yeah, it does give you an idea. You can't completely compare the two because each is different and you don't know what can happen in a year, and the Olympic Games is a completely different challenge in itself, but you're probably going to be racing the same people because it's only a year out and it did give me an idea of what to expect. I still think that I have a lot to work on. There's a lot that I can improve on so I'm quite excited about what can happen this year and giving myself the best opportunity of qualifying and making the team. Then I'll try to put in a good performance if I make the team."

Fran Halsall, Chris Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty and Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Great Britain pose during the medal ceremony for the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay Final on day twelve of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 5, 2015© Getty Images

How do you mentally prepare for the big races? I imagine for some swimmers it can be quite daunting.

"It is daunting, I'm not going to lie, you do get nervous but nerves are definitely important because I think if you compete without nerves, it doesn't mean that much to you. It does mean a lot to me. I've been doing this at a young age, but I love it and it's what I've always wanted to do. I'm very lucky that I'm able to do it and do it at a high level - I never imagined that it would be like this.

"You train so hard, you put so much into it, you want to get the best results for yourself and get what you think you deserve after all the hard work that you've put in. The pressures that come externally are sometimes the bad pressures, but it's more a case of me just putting the pressure on myself because I want to get the best out of myself. You know that if you've done everything right, you can have no regrets - that's what I try to do. I make sure that I've done everything that I can so I can't look back and say, 'I wish I could have done this'."

Any athlete's career can be very short if they sustain injuries and setbacks and so on. Given how intense training is for professional swimmers, how do you find that balance so you're not pushing yourself too much?

"I think it's a very fine balance! Swimming is one of the sports where there is high volume and high intensity training. It's a very hard sport and I don't think that at times it is recognised. It is about trying to train as hard as you can, push yourself as hard as you can, but also allowing yourself time to recover and make improvements. You need your body to get to where you're pushed into the ground, but give yourself time to relax and adapt and make those improvements again.

"Unfortunately for me I can't manage the same amount of training as some of my teammates just because everyone's body is different. You see some people who can do absolutely incredible amounts of work, but for some reason or another, I have a dodgy health sometimes so I can't always manage to do killer amounts of volume. It's about trying to do the right amount of training. It's not really a disadvantage, it can actually work in my advantage so it's just about trying to find the right balance."

Rebecca Adlington was pretty much the face of British Swimming during her successful career. Do you think that you're on your way to becoming an inspirational figure like her?

"Becky is the most successful swimmer that we've had and she's an amazing, lovely lady and although she's not swimming anymore she's still doing so much for the sport. She's still a mentor, which is amazing as she has so much advice to offer us all. I do find it weird that I am one of the older members of the team now. When Becky and some of the older guys were on the team and I was one of the younger ones, they were always kind and thoughtful and always made the effort to make you feel so welcome in the team. It was so important.

"It means everything when you're younger to have those people who you look up to be so kind and considerate and to give you that confidence so you know that you're one of the team. I just hope that as I'm getting to that stage as one of the older ones, I hope that the young ones who come through feel like they can talk to me and I can give advice. It's quite an honour to have people who want to talk to you and ask you for advice."

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Great Britain competes in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay Final on day twelve of the 16th FINA World Championships at the Kazan Arena on August 5, 2015© Getty Images

Adding to that, after interviewing a few of you in the British team, it's clear to see that you all have a very tight bond, which is sometimes rare as competitive people can clash. Is it crucial to have that camaraderie? I can imagine that if someone didn't have it they would feel very isolated in that environment.

"Yeah, it's very important to have that camaraderie in the team. It's an individual sport but it's also like a team sport when you get to a major competition. Our successes are for ourselves but our team success is based on everyone's medal count. I think it goes to show at the World Championships that we have such a strong team environment and atmosphere. Everyone's bonded together so well and we bounce off each other's swim. The team has changed a lot and we've all got really close. I think it will pay off, I think we need it. Even though it's an individual sport, you want to feel part of a team and being part of a team helps bring out brilliant performances."

Within that team of course is Adam Peaty. He's a major medal hope for the Olympics in Rio. It's a lot of pressure on him, but are you confident that he'll meet expectations?

"Adam is one of the best people that I've ever met - he's absolutely incredible. To have done what he's done and to be so humble and so modest is amazing. I think he's one of the most talented swimmers I've ever seen and his work ethic is second to none - he's a beast in training! He's done so much already and has got time on his side and is such a young and amazing prospect that has done so much for the sport already. I think he'll deal with it brilliantly. He had a lot of pressure going into the Worlds this year having already claimed the world record and he was the favourite, but he handled it brilliantly. He's very, very mature. Whatever happens next year, he'll give it 100%, leaving no stone unturned so I have every faith that he'll do his absolute best."

Adam Peaty celebrates setting a world record in the men's 50m breaststroke at the World Aquatics Championships on August 4, 2015© AFP

Have you begun thinking about your targets for Rio?

"The trials come around so quickly. It's going to be a tough year, but I'm excited for what I have to work on. There's lots of things that I can put right from what I learned this year. Year on year, I want to give myself the best chance of doing well, get some good times, make the team and then see what happens!"

For the British team overall do you think that there will be more nerves than usual around the Olympics? London 2012 didn't really go as planned and there will probably be more expectation on Great Britain in 2016 given the medals that you've won over the last couple of years.

"There will be a bit of nerves, but that's what's expected in an Olympic Games as it only comes around once every four years. Everyone understands that you don't get many opportunities to do well and it is the biggest stage in sport, so obviously there's going to be nerves but we've come together as a team and there's so many exciting prospects on the team that weren't even on the team in London - Adam, James [Guy], Ross [Murdoch]. I think we're all looking forward to it and just do the best that we can and not think about London, we'll try to look forward."

There are a lot of leading female figures in sport such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Serena Williams and many more. What are your thoughts on the representation of sportswomen in the media?

"To be honest, I think the Sportswomen awards are brilliant for women's sport, I think it's very good to recognise it because I think it has moved on a lot. The media has moved on a lot as well, but it's still not equal to men's sport. There's been a step in the right direction and I think things like [the awards] are helping it.

"I feel very lucky that I'm in a sport where it is very equal because we're competing at the same times, it's the same coverage. I'm a massive general sports fan and I love to see women do well because I don't think it's as easy for women to get into sport as it is for men. There are a lot more challenges, so [it's great] to see all the things that have been done to help encourage women's participation. I love to see it and the Sportswomen awards are incredible because it's such a great platform to celebrate the UK and British women's sport."

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor is shortlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards in association with Vitality. Watch on Sky Sports 1 and Sky 1 on November 6.

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Siobhan O'Connor celebrates winning gold in the 200m individual medley with a Games record on July 27, 2014
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