Dublin, June 2021. The Swim Ireland performance meet and the last chance to qualify for Tokyo.
“Danielle, get in and swim” Hill told herself in an effort to get psyched up and banish all pressure from her thoughts.
“You’ve been doing this your whole life, just go for it” she said.
Going above and beyond that precise strategy, the Larne club member set a new Irish senior record of 1:00.18 in the 100m backstroke final to book her place on the Olympic plane.
The outpour of emotion that followed showed the country just how much the triumph meant to the 21-year-old at the National Aquatic Centre, who “never do[es] anything the easy way.”
“Everything just fell into place, and I think that it showed when I was a little bit teary at the end” she says.
“It was just all the hard work. Not just over the past year, but for my whole life. It all built to that moment.”
“It was quite special, and I just can’t wait to get out there and race fast again.”
Missing out on the semifinals of the 100m backstroke on Sunday last with a time of 1:00:86, Hill will be able to do exactly that with her 50m freestyle event in the coming days.
The two-time Commonwealth Games swimmer has met success on many fronts throughout her career so far and is currently the Irish senior record holder in four events – the 50m, 100m freestyle, 50m, 100m backstroke, but is still coming to grips with the title of a Team Ireland position in Tokyo.
“It’s crazy” she says.
“Every time someone says, ‘you know you’re an Olympian right?’ I kind of grin and I’m like, yeah, I know, but it’s still surreal.”
A steady increase in female representation at elite level has been in the works at Swim Ireland for many years and Hill reflects amplification of the squad nature as “amazing.”
“Obviously Mona [McSharry] was first to qualify in April. The me and Ellen [Walshe]and all the girls went to Europeans together and it was the first time that we’ve had over three or four girls on a trip. It was a really special occasion for us” she says.
“I think, you know, this has been building for a few years, you know, the squads that I’ve been on from early 2016, 2017 is still the same squad that it is today.”
“We were joking around with Mona and saying ‘oh, you’re going to be the only girl’ and we couldn’t be there when she goes on to an Olympics and so whenever me and Ellen qualified it was quite funny.”
“It’s great for all of us because we’ll need each other when we get there, whether it’s good or for bad and we know that. We’ve have been on trips together before, so we knew each other and we know what our likes and dislikes are so it should be fun.”
It doesn’t stop at just participating for Hill however as she has her eyes on two certain goals for this quadrennial competition.
“I want to make the semifinal or go as far as possible and in order to do that my time needs to drop a little bit, so there’s things definitely to be working on” says the Peter Hill coached swimmer.
“I really want to break that 25 mark for Irish swimming, more than anything and I think the Olympics would be the perfect place to do it” she says.
I’ve joked with my coach, you know, that, I’m just saving that up for the big occasion. So, I can’t wait to get out there and just race faster.”
While Olympic athletes have become attuned to the expectations that come with contesting on the world stage, one thing they never appear to get quite used to is the encouragement that comes from far and wide and also near.
“Family are everything to me and I wouldn’t even be close to this position if I didn’t have them bringing me to early any mornings when I was 12 or 13 and paying for everything and the list literally could go on forever” she says.
“Anything that I do the support is incredible. Especially from, Larne. My teammates have been amazing the whole time and I haven’t been able to see them as much, obviously with COVID and they haven’t been in the water. So, everything I was kind of doing was for them. I always had them in the back of my mind.”
“It’s great to say that they believed in you once upon a time and now you’re finally there. It’s a nice story to have and yeah the support back home has been incredible.”
Danielle will be in action in heat 8 of the 50m freestyle tomorrow at 11:38 Irish time.