Magheralin swimmer Daniel Wiffen.
A Magheralin swimmer has arrived in Tokyo to compete in next month's Olympics.
Daniel Wiffen (19) is in the the Irish swimming team for the Games which were to have been staged in 2020 but ended up being postponed for a year because of the pandemic.
A member of the Loughborough University and Larne clubs, he is the Irish senior record holder for both the 800m and 1500m freestyle.
Speaking exclusively to Your Lurgan's sister publication, the Ulster Gazette two days prior to Saturday's departure for the Japanese capital, he admitted, “I'm so excited. I can hardly wait.
“But while I'm really looking forward to the whole experience, my main goal is to get into the final.”
Referring to the five-year gap between the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the forthcoming Games, Jon Rudd, National Performance Director and Team Leader for the Games explained, “This has been the longest ever Olympic cycle and qualification period the sport has faced.
“To have nine swimmers in an 11-member aquatics team for the Games is an excellent outcome for our sport and all those involved.
“Double trials and a protracted relay appeal meant that many of our athletes did not know until very recently whether they would or could be selected to this team, an uncertainty that has been difficult for everyone, especially those who narrowly missed out.”
Daniel did not miss out, nor was he one of those kept waiting before learning his fate. On the contrary, he was assured of his inclusion in the team early on.
“It was quite a strange one [format] having two different styles, but I'm happy that I made it on the first one. I made my qualification first time in the first event on the first day, so that made things a lot easier for me.”
Two years ago Daniel swam in the European Short Course, World Junior and European Junior Championships; two months ago he competed at the European Championships in Hungary.
So, progress all the way in a career constantly moving in the right direction.
But while competing at international level obviously is something to which he is fully accustomed and is an environment in which he is comfortable, participation in the Olympics is the pinnacle for any athlete, with the best on the planet in action and the eyes of the world watching on.
Between Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, August 1 Daniel is going to be swimming against the world's best in the new Tokyo Aquatics Centre. His events? The 800m and 1500m freestyle in which he holds those Irish senior records.
The Loughborough undergraduate, who will be embarking on the second year of his degree course in the autumn, began competitive swimming as a 10-year-old, shortly before going to St Pat's which he attended for seven years.
“I've been swimming competitively ever since,” said the tennager whose successes and achievements in the pool continue to multiply.
Explaining his nominal involvement with Larne SC, Daniel said, “While I'm in Loughborough, Larne's the Irish club to which I'm affiliated.”
In preparation for the team's departure from Dublin on Saturday, he had been down to the Irish capital and back up to the family home in Magheralin on a daily basis for some time.
“I've been training in Dublin every evening, getting PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and stuff like that so that I'd be ready to go to Japan,” he said.
And then, in a manner typical of a 19-year-old, he added casually, “I still have all my packing to do, though.”
Because of Covid, this Olympic showpiece will be unlike any other, for instead of tens of thousands of spectators to cheer on the competitors the venues will be empty. In addition, there are going to be unprecedented restrictions on the athletes themselves. This will be an unnaturally quiet Olympic Village.
“Basically we're just going to have to stay in our bubble, with no deviating away from the road,” Daniel said. “So no seeing the sights of Tokyo or anything like that.
“We've got someone there who will help us and give us instructions on what to do and where to go.
“But at 19, I might have another Games ahead of me and hopefully things will be better by that stage.”
Lauding the discipline and commitment shown by those who battled for inclusion, Team Ireland Chef de Mission, Tricia Heberle, said, “The past year has been tough for everyone, but seeing how our swimmers handled that first lockdown, coming out of it producing personal bests and national records, in challenging circumstances, has been a true test of resilience.”
And no-one proved more resilient than St Pat's old boy, Daniel Wiffen. We wish him well.