Sligo’s Mona McSharry is currently making her Olympic debut in Tokyo competing in both the 100M and 200M breaststroke. A trailblazer in Irish swimming, McSharry is the current holder of the Irish senior record for the 50M, 100M and 200M breaststroke, as well as the 50M butterfly.
In 2017, the Ballyshannon Marlins Swim Club prodigy became the first Irish swimmer to ever claim gold at the Junior World Championships – she took this in the 100M breaststroke. A month prior, she claimed gold at the European Junior Swimming championships
You could say that she was destined to be an Olympian. Ever since McSharry can remember, she always wanted to compete at the Olympics. However, it was Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in London 2012 and USA’s Lilly King in Rio 2016 which really sparked the fire and belief in McSharry.
“At like 11 or 12, being asked would you like to go to the Olympics, any young kind playing a sport want’s to go to the Olympics, said McSharry.
“When I was watching the 2012 and the 2016 Olympics, it kind of became and actual dream, something that I thought I could actually aspire to do not just say, ‘Yeah I want to go to the Olympics’.
“It’s really nice to finally be able to achieve that. Because I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I don’t feel that young going but I guess I am still early in my career which is exciting as well because I have at least another Olympics, as well which is great!”
Heading into the Swim Ireland Olympic Trials in April, McSharry’s lifetime best was three-hundredths of a second outside of the Olympic qualifying standard time of 1 minute, 7.07 seconds. At the trials, the 20-year-old Sligo swimmer dipped under 1.07s for the first time in her career and went on to post a new Irish Senior Record of 1.06.97.
Times however aren’t something she dwells on too much. It’s all about adapting to the race in front of her and improving.
“I’m fully focused on performance. I try not to dwell on the time too much because you’re going to swim so many different races, so many different ways.
“The time might be minutely different but it’s more about how it feels. I try and stay away from the thinking about the end time but instead, how the race actually felt and what I can improve on. Obviously it’s great to touch the wall and turn around to see a fast time, especially when it’s an Irish Senior Record, that’s even better. But it’s all just bonuses and I try not to dwell on it as a main point.”
In August of last year, McSharry made the move to the University of Tennessee which has seen her swimming come on leaps and bounds. At her debut NCAA Championships she went on to break the University records in both the 100 and 200 yards – which saw her pick up silver and bronze medals.
Coming into the Games, McSharry was ranked 11th and expectations were that a semi-final was a real possibility. At the time of writing this, McSharry has just gone on to progress to the Olympic semi-finals in the 100M breaststroke in Tokyo. Her swim saw her just 0.1s off her own Irish Record and she qualified as the ninth fastest swimmer in the competition.
It was a mature and composed performance from McSharry who had South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker on her inside. McSharry was fourth at the 50M mark with a time of 31.06 but clawed her way back swimming 35.33 in the final 50M. Shoenmaker set a new Olympic and African Record of 1:04.82. It showed real character from McSharry to keep her cool and swim her own race.
When we spoke to McSharry last month, her target was to get to the semi-finals and that is exactly what she has done. Looking at her performance, the belief will be there that she can go one step further and reach an Olympic final.
“It’s really exciting to think about possibly making it out of the heats into the semi-finals which is definitely my target. So, I think I’m just going to go out there and race and see what happens. You never know on the day, there’s going to be a lot of fast swimmers who want to make it out of the heats, so we all just have to work our hardest.”
We also caught up with the Sligo swimmer on the It’s Just Sport Podcast where had a really in-depth chat about her move to America, Body Image in Swimming, Getting Your Period As A Swimmer, Some Funny Training Stories and So Much More. Definitely worth a watch or listen to it on any podcast platform – just search Her Sport!
The Ballyshannon native is the first Sligo-born athlete to represent Team Ireland at an Olympic Games and as you can imagine, the support is immense.
“It’s been amazing. I love being from a small close-knit community, said the beaming McSharry.
“Everyone’s been so nice. With Covid I didn’t get to see as many people as I would have in a normal year but I’ve still gotten so many congratulations. I know that the support is there and they’re all behind me and that really helps. Even though there won’t be anyone at the games I know they will be at home cheering me on which is really nice.”
McSharry will go in the semi-finals on Monday morning with the whole nation hoping she will once again make a huge splash on the international stage.