Echo Women in Sport awards: Hannah O'Shea swam into the history books

Talented Cork teen became the first female to win the prestigious Lee Swim
Echo Women in Sport awards: Hannah O'Shea swam into the history books

Eoghan Dinan, Deputy Editor The Echo with Hannah O'Shea. Picture: Jim Coughlan

A number of weeks ago Cork teenager Hannah O’Shea did something that can never be done again.

Yes, another swimmer can repeat her feat, but Hannah wrote herself into the history books as the first female swimmer to win the Lee Swim.

History records show the race dates back to 1918 or thereabouts, with a pause a number of years ago, before it was reborn in 2005, with Vibes and Scribes coming on board as sponsors.

Since then it has gone from strength to strength with numbers growing every year. This year more than 500 swimmers took part and Hannah finished ahead of them all, completing the 2km course in a magnificent time of 22 minutes and 46 seconds. This was six seconds ahead of the runner-up and winner of the men’s overall prize.

Her achievement is made all the more noteworthy when you consider she is just 17 and this was the first time she entered this race.

“I didn’t realise that I was the first female winner of the race, I only found that out afterward. It was amazing and It’s always something that I will have and it will always be there,” said Hannah, who is from Grenagh.

Hannah is a member of Dolphin Swimming Club and started swimming when she was six, with her training sessions taking place at the Mayfield pool.

I started swimming because some of our neighbours were swimming with them and my mum wanted me to be able to swim if we went to the beach or a pool and it kind of went on from there. 

"I was probably nine when I did my first race. After that, I started going to competitions in Limerick, Dublin, and other places.”

 Rory Noonan, Chief Sub Editor The Echo, presents Hannah O'Shea, with her award, also included is Hannah's mum, Mi Young Kang. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Rory Noonan, Chief Sub Editor The Echo, presents Hannah O'Shea, with her award, also included is Hannah's mum, Mi Young Kang. Picture: Jim Coughlan

From here Hannah started swimming in national competitions and other top events.

“I think Belfast in 2018 was my first big competition and I have been competing since then at national level. I was at the nationals recently and competed in eight events and was lucky enough to have finals in all of them.”

Hannah showed her prowess as she came home with four medals, three individual and one team event. In the 400m individual medley she won gold; silver in the 800m free and bronze in the 200m butterfly. With her Dolphin teammates, she won another bronze in the 400m medley.

She has enjoyed success at a competitive level for the club over the years but the Lee Swim was the first time she took in an open water swim and Hannah said that: “I’d definitely like to be back next year, I really enjoyed it - it was something different for sure.”

To be competing at this level takes a lot of commitment and training and the sixth-year student at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál, Blarney, has to balance her heavy training schedule with the demands of her Leaving Certificate.

The only month they stop training is August but for the rest of the year it is a grueling schedule for Hannah.

She trains six days a week and is at the pool every morning from 5.30am to 7.30am, and then on Thursday and Fridays they also do an evening session.

Along with the pool sessions, Hannah also has gym sessions at the Mardyke arena every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, and also on a Saturday after the swimming session. She is on the ETP (Emerging Talent Programme) and has a coach (Darren) who tailors her gym sessions to compliment her swimming ones.

Hannah is also a member of the National Performance Squad, whose focus is on the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.


A busy teenager who only decided to do the Vibes and Scribes Lee Swim because some of her club members were taking part.

“There was no swim for the last two years due to the pandemic but a lot of swimmers in the club took part in 2019 and there were more doing it this year so I decided to enter. I said I would chance my arm at it as well.

“I was targeting coming first, second or third in the women’s category so coming out first overall was way bigger than that. 

You have to put in a time of how you think you are going to do and then you start in a certain category based on that. The fastest 30 go in first group and then they stagger it after that.”

But just because you are in the first group doesn’t mean you care automatically the winner so Hannah had to wait a little while to confirm she was the winner, with the timing based on a wristband that all swimmers have and having to tap a board at the end.

“For the majority of the race, there was about six of us in a row so we could see each other as we were racing.”

But after a tight race, Hannah emerged as the winner as she wrote herself into the history books and it would be no great surprise to see this talented swimmer go on to achieve many more accolades in the pool in the coming years.

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