For months the Edmonton native believed the 1,500-metre freestyle would be her best chance to earn a spot on the Swimming Canada team heading to this summer’s FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
O’Croinin finished second in the gruelling race on the opening day of the 2019 Canadian Swimming Trials but failed to swim under the qualifying time.
Instead of being discouraged her efforts had fallen short, the 15-year-old took a deep breath then refocused for the 400-m freestyle.
“I assessed what happened in the 1,500,” she said. “I kind of took that, moved forward with what we had learned from that and applied it to the 400. I came into it with a different mindset and it paid off.”
Two nights later O’Croinin was second in the 400-m. Her personal best time of four minutes, 09.11 seconds was good enough to make her the youngest member of the Canadian team heading to South Korea.
“It’s pretty cool,” O’Croinin said about joining her first senior national team. “Going into Trials I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was just going to see what I could do.
“To come out with that result was pretty exciting.”
Paul Birmingham, O’Croinin’s coach at the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club, was impressed with the way she rebounded after “a little bit of a wobbly swim” in the 1,500-m.
“This is the first time she’s come into trials with some expectations,” said Birmingham. “Dealing with those expectations and nerves, the first taste of pressure is a little difficult.
“She handled it well and she managed to get back up and did a great job there.”
Swimming without expectations lifted some weight off O’Croinin’s narrow shoulders.
“There were different expectations in the 400,” she said. “I was a lot less nervous. I think that helped my performance.”
Veteran Mackenzie Padington, who won the 400-m, heaped praise on O’Croinin after the race.
“She has so much potential,” said Padington, who also won the 1,500-m and 800-m freestyles. “I honestly think she can be one of our best 400-m freestylers we have seen if she keeps on the trajectory she is going on right now.
“There is nothing that should really be stopping her if she’s going 4:09 at 15 years old.”
O’Croinin appreciated Padington’s vote of confidence.
“It was really good to hear how supportive she was,” she said. “It was a big moment and a lot of emotion. It’s good to have someone like her being supportive and nice.”
Padington, 20, competed at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest and was a member of the 4×200-m freestyle relay team that won bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.
O’Croinin said she will be looking to Padington for advice and support when the team gathers in advance of this year’s world championships.
“It will be good to train with her and see how she acts,” O’Croinin said. “I will take some notes from that and apply it to myself in my first experience.”
O’Croinin will be doing double duty this summer. After the senior worlds she will compete at the 2019 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest.
Padington said this summer’s experience will boost O’Croinin’s chances of qualifying for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“The first time you make (a senior national team) you are very shocked,” she said. “You get your feet on the ground. It will be really important when she tries to make the team next year.
“She will have the experience of having the long traveling of going to Korea and then going to the juniors.”
The five-foot-nine O’Croinin still has room to grow and add muscle.
“She has a good frame,” said Birmingham. “She is only going to develop speed over the next few years.
“Physiologically and anatomically she’s got some really good traits for freestyle. There are some things in her favour. Now it’s about really doing the work. Being patient is the big thing.”
Birmingham described O’Croinin as “hard worker, very diligent . . . focused.” She will also have to learn some patience as she makes the move to senior competition where there will be bigger, stronger and faster women.
“There are always fast kids coming up,” said Birmingham. “I’m very hesitant to just throw pressure on people. You’ve got to let them succeed. You’ve got to let them fail. They’ve got to know it’s all good. It’s just all part of the sport.”
Padington likes the depth in Canadian women’s distance swimming with O’Croinin and Kate Sanderson, a 19-year-old who qualified to compete in Korea in the 10-km open water event.
“I think it will be a really good 1,500 and 800 to watch next year,” she said. “I believe all three of us will be under the (qualifying time) and it’s going to be who can get their hand to the wall first.
“I’m not going to lie. I have fear of them, epically Emma. She’s a lot younger than me.”
Originally published: https://www.swimming.ca/en/news/2019/06/24/young-distance-swimmer-emma-ocroinin-not-weighed-down-by-expectations/