Women in Sport - An Interview with Sonya McGinn

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Women in Sport - An Interview with Sonya McGinn

Badminton Ireland spoke to former Olympian Sonya McGinn about her playing career and some of her highlights from the Sydney Olympics in an indepth interview. Read more......

Can you remember the moment you realized you had qualified for the Sydney games and how that felt?  

I had just flown back home from the Peru and Chile International Championships which had gone very well, reaching the finals in both & notching up some very good wins on the way.

The 31st April was the deadline date for qualifying for Sydney 2000 Olympics, so it was very exciting times after these 2 competitions as they were the last 2 in the qualifying period.

Early May about 9:30am the phone in the house rang & it was the call I was so hoping/praying for.  Marie O Connor who worked in the Badminton Ireland office at that time and was a super support to me throughout my career, said to me you’ve done it, you’ve qualified for Sydney Olympics. Oh my god, even now, I get goose bumps thinking about it. I had put so much work, time and dedication into qualifying for this big goal of mine, that I took in what Marie was saying but just couldn't believe it at the same time, that I had done it. I had my place on that plane flying out to Sydney Olympics and making the history books by being the first Irish Female Women’s Singles player to qualify for an Olympics in Ireland. I was so delighted for my parents, who supported me the whole way, through the tough times and the great times.  This is a day I will never forget and would love to do it all again.

Looking back on being the first player to represent Ireland in badminton at the Olympics must be something which you are extremely proud of. Can you give an insight into how the Olympic experience was for you, the build-up, preparations, the match itself?  

My Olympic experience was more then what I had expected. Regarding being proud of myself, I would be more impressed of what I achieved now looking back then I was at the time as I was so determined to achieve this goal, that I didn’t really have time to think what I had achieved or put myself through to achieve it.  

Qualifying for the Olympic Games was a goal of mine from a very young age so when I qualified it was a very exciting time for me, my family, those involved with helping me to get there and for Badminton in Ireland. The Olympic experience was really a fantastic experience and memory that I will never forget. From the minute I heard I'd qualified, to the Irish Olympic training camp, the Olympic village, the Opening Ceremony, my match and the closing ceremony. It will all be a lasting memory for me and I hope my parents.

Build up & Preparation the months before the games:

The build up to the games was so enjoyable & exciting. The relief of knowing I had qualified made training so much more enjoyable. I continued to train as normal for the next couple of months, 6 days a week with a session in the gym and a session on the court & then Sunday was just a 10k run, no court work. I loved pushing myself to the max, as I'd feel great after it, but sometimes, I’ll admit now I didn’t know when to stop and once maybe twice I hit a brick wall during my career. The year of qualifying for the games I was very conscious of making sure I didn't get injured as this could have been a result of me not qualifying. 

2 months before travelling to Sydney, I went to Limerick to a guy there called Giles Warrington who did fitness tests with me to see where I was at and to discuss my Pre Olympic program I had set out. This was a great experience as he ended up making a few changes to my training schedule and the difference it made to me both mentally and physically was brilliant. Giles was a great help and it was a pity I didn’t go to him sooner to be able to work with him more. I was in the best shape and form I had ever been in. Training went great and I had no injuries, I was so ready for the Olympic Games and so excited.

Olympic Experience:

The day I had worked so hard for came & I was flying out to the Sydney Olympic Games.

Being the first Irish to qualify for the games meant no one knew what to expect which added to the excitement.

I will always remember being at the airport, so many people I knew came out to wish me good luck. I was so excited, I can remember saying bye to everyone and then being on the plane, the in between part in the airport, I can’t remember. You run on adrenaline without doubt on your first Olympics, if I was to go & compete in a 2nd Olympics, after experiencing one already, you really would be so much better prepared.

After a long flight, we arrived in Sydney and were then taken to the Irish Team training camp hotel, where we stayed and trained for 3 weeks before moving into the Olympic village.

This was a great opportunity for all athletes on the Irish Olympic team to actually meet each other. You read about each other in the newspapers but now got to sit and chat.

This was great for me as I was the only Irish Badminton player over so was nice to meet other athletes, who I became very friendly with.

Training venues were great. We had a Badminton hall to ourselves and then the Irish team all shared the same gym. Training went well over there but if I was to go again, I would change a few things to help me be better prepared mentally for my first match. Physically, I couldn’t have been any fitter then what I was, I peeked as planned.

When in the training camp, RTE had contacted the Olympic council who were also staying in our hotel at the Irish training camp and told them that my draw was out and that they wanted to televise me opening the link to see who I was going to be playing against in my first match. I can remember going to a cafe beside the hotel along with my coach, training partner as well as a load of Irish athletes that came as support. It was such a great feeling. 

Moving into the Olympic village:

Moving into the Olympic village was simply another part of the whole experience I was so looking forward to and this was an experience I most definitely won't forget. It was really like a little village of our own, our own bus route, gym, cinema, shops, & areas to simply chill out and relax and then of course the massive food hall where you could get every type of food you wanted 24/7. In one of the shops was all Olympic merchandise that you could buy and they had our personalized Olympic postage stamps, so a good few postcards were sent home with me on the postage stamp.

The accommodation in the village were all houses with about 6-8 bedrooms, Olympic duvets on each bed, lounge and kitchenette in each house. I was sharing the house with our Equestrian team and 2 cyclists. We were all competing at different times of the week, so it was generally at night time when we would sit down and discuss how everything was going.

There were so many great memories of the Olympic Village, who I was training with in the gym, eating within the food hall or chatting to when out and about soaking up the atmosphere while trying to relax.

The evening of the Opening Ceremony came around and the Irish team was brought by bus over to the stadium. All athletes sat in the gymnastics arena watching the opening ceremony on big screens until we were called. The announcement came and one by one the countries were led out into the stadium. This was some experience. We were all singing when walking through the tunnel and once we walked into the stadium, we all went quiet. It was the Olympic feeling I expected, pure excitement and adrenaline. I could see Irish flags all around the stadium. What an opening to the games!

The day of my match came, and it was on in the evening Australian time & during the day Irish time as RTE had asked to cover it. I planned my day out once I had heard what time I was playing at. I was up early, went for breakfast, headed over to the practice hall and then back to the Olympic village to relax and mentally prepare. All went ok!!

The time came and I was brought over to the hall.  I warmed up in the practice hall and then was told their ready for my match. I remember walking out to a massive cheer.  Beside my court I saw family & friends who had travelled over as well as some of our other Irish Olympians who came in to support me. This day I would like to do all over again, as I would go about it differently now that I have experienced it. I still regret how I was mentally prepared and played in my match, but I suppose that is sport & nothing I can do about now.

Post Match:

Close by the badminton stadium, there was an athlete’s marquee sponsored by Samsung which was a place for athletes to go and relax at any time of the day. You could bring in family and friends to enjoy the atmosphere, watch the games live on the big screens and let them enjoy the complimentary food and drink at the same time with you and the other Olympians. So after my match, a good few of us went back there and one of my neighbor’s from back home very kindly had sent over a bottle of champagne which we opened and enjoyed.  I hadn’t won my match, but it was a lovely chance to celebrate getting to the Olympics with my parents, who really deserved to celebrate this moment as much as me, my brother, my now husband and friends, who were all a super support to me through the good and bad times.

What was your career highlight and why:

Qualifying for the Olympics has to be my career highlight.

Why: because it was a dream to compete in the Olympics. Didn’t know what sport in until I was about 15, but I wanted to walk out in the Opening ceremony with an Irish flag.

Favourite memories of the Irish Open:

I always loved the Irish Open as I was at home, not staying in a hotel and had loads of support around. The Irish open was a competition I wanted to win as it was always nice to see one of your own do well in home competitions. I got to the final the year before the Olympics but injured my Achilles in the semi-final. The physio was great that year as she treated my injury straight after my semi and the morning of the final, but it was too bad. I played the final but it was not meant to be as I couldn’t really move. 3 months later, I played the same girl and beat her in 2 straight sets. Again, that is sport and that’s how it can go.

What are the main skills you picked up playing Badminton which have been transferrable & used in other aspects of your life:

*Commitment:

*Determination:

*Mental Strength:

With commitment and determination, I think everyone is born with these 2 but its how each individual uses or works on them is a skill.

With mental Health relating to how you prepare yourself to compete, this is definitely a skill I picked up during my qualifying period for Sydney Olympics. I was always all go and really did need to learn how to sit down, relax & mentally prepare for my match/competition coming up. I went to a gentleman called John O Connor who thought me how to prepare mentally before matches. At first, I can remember thinking to myself while sitting on a chair in his clinic, what am I doing here? This isn’t going to work for me, I’m bored & restless.  Little did I know, 3 or 4 weeks into it, I got it, and this is a skill that helped me so much when competiting, especially when away on my own with no coach or support and now I use it in my working career, where I own a gym in the IFSC. Mental Health is such a massive topic and to be thought a skill to know how to manage your thoughts is great skill to have.

RTE Olympic analyst for Rio 2016

I have worked with RTE covering the Olympic Games since 2008 Beijing Games in China. I really enjoy doing this and get on very well with all involved in the RTE Team covering the Olympics, which always helps relax me before going live on air but also promoting our sport.

Where am I now?

I own a Health Club in the IFSC, Dublin 1, called SV Fitness. This was my plan after the Olympics. I wanted to have a gym that caters for all levels of fitness from novice to Olympic, and that everyone can enjoy coming in to. We have created that gym, very friendly atmosphere with expert trainers on the gym floor to help you.

SV Fitness is a private health club in the heart of the IFSC. We are a 10,000sq ft Health club, with a fully equipped cardio and free weights area, studio with a full schedule of classes, steam room, sauna, and expert advice at all times on the gym floor.  Our aim in SV Fitness is to get people exercising, keeping them fit mentally and physically and it couldn’t be more important these days.

We look after corporate membership for companies in and around the IFSC, as well as individuals working or living in the area. We have membership options to suit everyone. If you’re in the area, drop in and we can show you around.

 

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