Cover Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong's Olympic swimming team speaks with Tatler before her big competition (Photo: Getty Images)

Record-breaking Hong Kong Olympic swimmer Siobhan Haughey sits down with Tatler to share all about the Tokyo Olympics 2020, her Olympics tattoo and little known facts about her

Gen.T honouree and Hong Kong swimmer Siobhan Bernadette Haughey has had a record-breaking week and became a national hero in the process. The Olympic swimmer, whose two silver medals from the Women's 100m and 200m freestyle races at Tokyo 2020 make her Hong Kong's first ever Olympic double medal winner, sat down with Tatler before her races to talk all about her training, surprising facts, life as a Eurasian female athlete from Hong Kong, and everything in between. 

See also: Olympic Swimmer Siobhan Haughey’s 15 Favourite Things

1. What was it like growing up in Hong Kong as a Eurasian in a local school?

I learnt to speak Cantonese since I was a baby, I watched the same TV shows and read the same Chinese books as my classmates, so I never saw myself as being "different" in a local school. Sometimes I did struggle with Chinese a little bit, or realised that my family doesn't follow certain Chinese traditions that my friends' families would, but for the most part, I think I was pretty similar to my friends in school. 

2. How has Covid-19 affected your life?

I was originally in the US when Covid-19 emerged. Pools and gyms were closed. I couldn’t train so I was mainly doing home workouts, but it’s just not the same as swimming in an actual pool. Living in Michigan by myself, I only went to the grocery store when I really had to. I avoided seeing people because I was scared of getting Covid-19. It can be lonely at times, but I didn’t have a hard time finding things to do at home. I bought a few 1,000-piece puzzles, and I read and baked a lot. I also tried to go on a sunset walk every day to get some fresh air.

I had been living in the US for five years at that point so I was used to not having my family around. However, during a time like that, I wish I was with my family and friends. I had family members who were health care workers so it was always worrisome knowing that they had to go to the hospital to work and had a chance of getting infected. I also called and texted different family members and friends every day to make sure they were doing OK, and that they had someone to talk to while being in lockdown.

3. At the beginning of Covid, you posted a fun transformation glow up video on Instagram alongside other athletes—are you close with a lot of the other Olympic athletes? Who are you the closest to and how did that happen?

The swimming world is pretty small, so you know a lot of people from going to different competitions. You see the same people at swim meets all the same, so that’s how you make friends. I have swimming friends from all around the world. I either meet them through competitions, or through being on the same ISL [a professional swim league] team.

Some of my friends include Emily Seebohm from Australia and Chad Le Clos from South Africa. We were all on the same ISL team and we got close because we’d all play Nintendo Switch during our downtime. It’s nice knowing that these top swimmers are very down-to-earth. 

4. How was your training like during Covid-19?

Like I said, I was in the US while Covid-19 happened. For swimmers, even being out of the pool for three days can ruin our “water feel”, so the fact that I wasn’t able to train for almost three months was a huge impact. I was doing at home workouts to stay fit but it’s just not the same as swimming in a pool. I was living in Michigan, and it was still snowing on some days. When the weather was “nicer” (by nicer I mean around 13 degrees Celsius), a teammate and I would go to a lake nearby, put on a wetsuit, and try to swim. We managed to swim for ten to 15 mins but had to get out afterwards because we were freezing. We would do anything just to swim in a body of water.

By late May I decided that this wasn’t the kind of Olympic preparation I want, so I decided to come back to Hong Kong, since the Hong Kong Sports Institute allowed their full-time athletes to train at their venues. Since June 2020, I’ve been training in Hong Kong with a group of swimmers who also came back from overseas. My coach in the US would send me practices every morning, and I would do the sets with seven other swimmers while being supervised by a Hong Kong coach.

5. What is your current training schedule like?

I currently train ten sessions a week in the pool and go to the gym three times a week. I also do yoga as a form of stretching and flexibility work. In total, I train around 30 hours a week.

6. What are some of your proudest moments?

Winning the Junior World Championships in the 100m freestyle in 2013 will always be special to me. I surprised myself and the swimming world because I was a nobody, from a small swimming nation, took away the gold medal and started to make a name for myself. That swim gave me a lot more confidence in my swimming career moving forward.

Launching my own swimsuit collection with Arena was also incredible because I’d never thought I would do something like this. I’m not an artistic person but I think the swimsuits turned out really well! It makes me smile when people send me photos of them wearing my suits. 

7. What’s the story behind your Olympics tattoo?

I never wanted to get a tattoo. I’m not scared of needles or anything, but I just never like the way it looks. Before I left for the Olympics, my teammates in Michigan asked if I’ll get the tattoo of the Olympic rings and I said “absolutely not”. Then I went to the Olympics and had the time of my life. During my 30-hour travel day back to Hong Kong from Brazil, I started to think about the possibility of getting an Olympic rings tattoo to remember this experience. So when I landed in Hong Kong, I immediately texted my mum asking if I should get a tattoo. She said I should, which convinced me.

I deliberately got it on the back of my shoulder. I see my tattoo when I turn my head to the back, which signifies all the hard work and effort I’ve put into achieving success. However, the tattoo is not noticeable to me if I’m facing forward, which means that whatever I accomplished in the past shouldn’t stop me from moving forward and working even harder for my next goals. 

8. What is your experience like as a female athlete from Hong Kong when travelling overseas? Any interesting stories?

A lot of times people are confused by my identity when they first meet me. To them, I look white, but then they realise I’m from Hong Kong and find out that I’m fluent in Cantonese, but have a slight Irish accent when I speak English. So whenever I meet people, I have to give them a brief summary of my background. 

9. What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am a huge Taylor Swift fan [laughs]. I grew up listening to her music and I still do till this day. I bought all of her albums and also went to her “Reputation” tour in 2018. My friends are always impressed that I can identify her songs within the first three seconds.

10. How would people describe your personality?

People would definitely say I’m an introvert. I’m very shy and quiet, especially when I first meet someone. They also think I’m very mysterious because I’m very secretive. It takes me a long time to get warmed up and open up. However, once they get to know me, they’d realise I’m pretty funny. People also say I’m very disciplined and determined, especially as an athlete. I like routines and I’m always punctual. Once I set my mind to something, I’d try my very best to achieve it.

See also: Hong Kong Fencer Cheung Ka-long Makes History With Olympic Gold Medal

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