Sunday 26 January 2020

Shane Ryan feels like a new man after switching allegiance to Ireland from US

He may have only lived in Dublin for 12 months, but there is no doubting Shane Ryan's Irish roots as he prepares to take the Olympic plunge.

The 22-year-old represented the United States at international level before switching allegiance to Ireland and competes in Rio with two others.

"It was a very, very hard decision. But I needed to do what's best for myself and to reach my dreams," Ryan told Press Association Sport.

"The US coaches said it was up to me. It was a year out, I talked to my coaches and they were like 'go for it'.

"I made the right decision. I'm a different person now to what I was when I came over here."

He took a year out from university at Penn State, but the gamble paid off as he joins Nicholas Quinn and Fiona Doyle in a streamlined Ireland swimming squad for Rio.

Ryan was born and raised in Pennsylvania and has an American accent, but qualifies through his father Tom, one of 10 sons and daughters of Portarlington, County Laois.

Ryan added: "My dad is one of 10. He moved over to the US to play Gaelic football when he was 17, 18 years old."

He met Ryan's mother, Mary Beth, and the rest is history.

The remainder of the Ryan family is in Portarlington, including "tons" of cousins.

After an arduous week of training in Dublin, Ryan travels west for some home comforts, staying with an aunt.

"Every weekend I go down to see my family," said Ryan, whose parents, brother Brendan and sister Tara are travelling to Rio to see him in action.

"(My dad is) the only one living in the States, everyone else is in Portarlington. It's great to get down there, see them, have a good home cooked meal."

Ryan makes his Olympic debut in the 100 metres backstroke on Sunday and will also compete in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

It is not so long ago that Irish swimming was notorious for the feats of Michelle Smith, later De Bruin, and did not have an Olympic standard swimming pool.

Smith won three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games, but was later banned for four years for tampering with a urine sample.

Ireland's first Olympic standard swimming pool, meanwhile, was built in Limerick in 2002.

Ryan hails from the same town, Drexel Hill, as American Brendan Hansen, a six-time Olympic medallist and former breaststroke world record-holder.

He hopes to emulate Hansen's success in some way and change perceptions of Irish swimming.

He said: "Semi-final? Final? I just need to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

"I'm taking huge steps forward in practice."

PA Media

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