Danielle Hill smashes through the one-minute barrier to book her place in Paris Olympics

Conor Ferguson just misses out again in his quest to nail the 100m backstroke qualifier

Day one of Swim Ireland’s Olympic trials and Danielle Hill didn’t take long to add her name to the list of Paris qualifiers in telling style, smashing through the one-minute barrier for the first time in the women’s 100m backstroke.

After lowering the Irish record to 1:00.16 only last month, Hill went after the 59.99 seconds required for Paris in her semi-final at the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown, her second swim of the day, and touched home well inside that, her superb time 59.11 improving her best by over a second.

The 25-year-old from Larne Swimming Club, who also qualified in the 100 backstroke for Tokyo, is now bound for her second Olympics, this one all the sweeter given she had struggled with injury over the last two years.

“I had that 59.99 time in mind, and the first Irish woman to go sub 60, and I just wanted to cement that,” Hill said. “I didn’t want any questions asked. I just went for it, and thankfully dipped under.


“So yeah, it’s pretty special [to qualify for the Olympics], maybe even more special than the first, because I know where I’ve been the last two or three years, ready to walk away from the sport, nine months ago. It’s a relief, but I am ready to go again now.”

In Wednesday’s opening session, the Olympic trials doubling as the Irish Open Championships, Hill topped the women’s 100m backstroke heats with a time of 1:00.37, not far off her previous Irish record 1:00.16 set in April, and a telltale sign of things to come.

Already Ireland’s fastest female swimmer, holder of the 50m freestyle record, the native of Newtownabbey in Co Antrim produced her brilliant best of 59.11 just when she wanted and needed it most.

Paris Olympic qualification times had already been achieved by Daniel Wiffen (400m, 800m, 1,500m freestyle), Ellen Walshe (200m medley), and Mona McSharry (100m breaststroke).

Conor Ferguson is still knocking on the door of his Olympic qualification in the 100m backstroke, the 24-year-old from Belfast falling just short again in his opening heat.

Needing to swim 53.74 seconds to ensure his Paris berth, Ferguson improved his best from 53.90 to 53.87, leaving him just .13 of a second short. Back in the pool later in the afternoon for his semi-finals, he touched home in 54.12, but will get one last shot at that 53.74 in Thursday’s final.

Having narrowly missed out on Rio as a 16-year-old, and again for Tokyo, he won’t lack motivation.

Double world champion Wiffen was once again under the Olympic qualification time in the 800m freestyle, winning his heat in 7:51.47.

Wiffen set a new championship record in the event, just 10 minutes after his twin brother Nathan had broken his own 2023 championship record of 8:03.79, with a personal best swim of 7:56.40.

The 22-year-old Loughborough-based swimmers will go again in Thursday’s 800m freestyle final with Nathan targeting the Paris time of 7:51.65, before they both turn their attention to the 1,500m freestyle.

Evan Bailey set the first Irish record of the week, with a new junior standard in the 200m freestyle, the New Ross swimmer producing an excellent 1:48.49, taking over a second off the 2018 mark of 1:49.57.

In the 200m individual medley, Walshe, who had qualified for Paris last year, produced another fine swim of 2:11.95 in her heat, with National Centre Limerick’s Ellie McCartney the fastest qualifier from the semi-finals. The 19-year-old clocked 2:14.92 to go under the consideration time for the European Championships next month.

Daniel Wiffen, Ferguson, Hill, Bailey, Walshe and McCartney were also all under the qualifying times for next month’s event in Belgrade

Both the women and men have qualified for Paris in the 4x100m medley relay, though in the men’s case, two individual Olympic qualification times are required from the team in order to confirm their place.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics