Katie Shanahan on getting used to new tag of Scotland’s 'next big thing' in the pool

·4-min read
Katie Shanahan on getting used to new tag of Scotland’s 'next big thing' in the pool
Katie Shanahan on getting used to new tag of Scotland’s 'next big thing' in the pool

THERE may have been swimmers who returned home from Birmingham 2022 with a larger medal haul than Katie Shanahan, but few came out of the Games with their reputation enhanced quite as significantly as the teenager.

Shanahan went into Birmingham 2022 as one of the babies of the team; at only 18 years old and making her Commonwealth Games debut, there were few expectations on her shoulders. She was, most observers thought, in Birmingham primarily for experience.

However, as early as day one of the Games, Shanahan announced her arrival on the international scene.

A surprise bronze medal in the 400m individual medley was a dream start to the meet for Shanahan but she wasn’t done there; a second bronze medal came in the 200m backstroke three days later to cement her status as Scotland’s “next big thing” in the pool.

Already, several comparisons have been made between the teenager and her long-time role model, Hannah Miley, and Shanahan admits getting used to her newly-acquired status has been somewhat surreal.

But the Glaswegian is refusing to get carried away and instead, is doing what she can to block out talk of quite how far she can go.

“It’s a compliment that people are talking about me in the way they are,” she says.

“But I try not to think about it all too much.

“Being compared to someone like Hannah Miley is amazing but I don’t want to think about any of that because it does just end up being an extra pressure.

“I’m trying to just focus on keeping swimming well as I go into next year and then obviously into 2024 when it’s the Olympics.

“Hannah messaged me a few times and I spoke to her in person in Birmingham too. It’s amazing – I was so inspired by her when I was growing up so it’s great to speak to her and know she’s supporting us.”

Shanahan has long been touted as one of the up-and-coming talents of Scottish swimming; six medals at the European Youth Olympic festival in 2019 was swiftly followed by six medals, including two titles, at the European Junior Championships in 2021 and highlighted just how talented she is.

The transition from the junior ranks to senior is notoriously tricky but Shanahan has navigated it flawlessly all season.

GB selection for the World Short-course Championships came at the end of last year, as did participation in the ISL, which gave her valuable experience swimming against the best in the world.

However, even the most optimistic of supporters failed to predict the teenager would be on the podium in Birmingham and Shanahan herself admits her medal-winning swims were beyond her wildest dreams.

“It still doesn’t feel real – I think I’m still processing it,” she says of her success at Birmingham 2022.

“I’m really proud of myself though – this season hasn’t panned out exactly how I wanted it to because I’ve had a few injuries so to come back from that is just amazing.

“I didn’t expect two medals at all. I hoped to make a few finals, get a few PBs and just get some experience so it was pretty incredible how it all turned out.

“The momentum I got on the first day carried me on through the rest of the week so I actually think doing well so early on helped a lot.”

Shanahan had no time to celebrate though; almost immediately, she turned her attention to the European Championships, which begin in Rome on Thursday, with four Scottish swimmers amongst the GB contingent.

She will contest the 200m and 400m individual medley and the 200m backstroke, although she admits that despite her success in Birmingham, she refuses to let herself think of more medals this week.

“The quick turnaround is pretty mad,” she says.

“I think how well I did in Birmingham will really help me because it gives me a lot of confidence going in to the Europeans but I’m just focusing on what’s ahead rather than anything that happened at Commies.

“I don’t have any huge expectations – I just want to go in and have fun.

“I don’t want to put any pressure on myself, even with what I did at Commies, so if I can make some finals and just gain some more experience then it’ll be a success.”

On her return from Rome, Shanahan will get ready to move onto the next chapter of her swimming career as she begins studying at Stirling University and joins the world-class training group there.

And with the Paris Olympics now less than two years away, Shanahan knows she has little time to waste, despite her fledgling age.

“This season has been great and so I can go back into training knowing I am good enough to be making these Championships and doing well,” she says.

“I’m really looking forward to getting started at Stirling and to be alongside the likes of Duncan Scott. It’s a real world-class environment and so hopefully I can keep up this momentum and move on again.”