Swim Ireland’s future has taken on a brighter shine as of late, with 3 of the nation’s elite swimmers making history over the summer. While competing at the World Junior Swimming Championships in Indianapolis, Conor Ferguson and Mona McSharry earned Ireland’s first-ever medals at the prestigious international meet. Ferguson claimed 100m backstroke silver and McSharry took 50m breaststroke bronze, while the pair also comprised half of the mixed 4x100m medley relay that earned a new Irish senior national record in the event in Indy.
The aforementioned performances came after former Penn State standout Shane Ryan had already struck gold at the World University Games in Taipei, taking the men’s 50m backstroke title. Representing Ireland, Ryan ended the nation’s 26-year long gold medal drought at WUGs.
Jon Rudd made the move in February of this year to become the Performance Director of Swim Ireland carrying a hefty resume, having coached 2012 Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte and 2017 World Champion Ben Proud in the past. With the Irish contingency moving in the right direction since the leadership change, the nation’s Olympic Council recently caught up with the former Plymouth College coach as part of its ‘Higher Performance’ series.
Rudd’s protegé, Meilutyte, was just 15 years of age when she won gold at the London Games and Rudd often draws on his coaching experience with the breaststroker. When asked what was the most important thing learned from coaching the Lithuanian, Rudd responded, “that to coach, develop and support the whole person is more important than to coach merely the athlete within.”
Rudd continued, “the athlete is just a subset of the person. You have to have a holistic eye on the individual to gain long-term-success and for the athlete/coach to create a strong and lifelong bond.
“That is what made my decision to join Swim Ireland and cease coaching Ruta one of the hardest decisions I ever made, because we had been through so much together over an existing and, at times, challenging 6-year period.”
In his short time at the helm of Swim Ireland, Rudd offers that the organization already does a lot of things right, things that “many other nations/federations could learn from.” He credits the close community that is Swim Ireland with giving athletes more ‘care, detail, attention and personal touch’ in their training.
Rudd’s vision includes educating and developing the Swim Ireland coaches already on staff and notes that they ‘may not necessarily do this in the traditional manner of accredited qualifications.’
“I’m all for coach education coming from outside the box,” says Rudd, whose first major coaching ‘get’ was acquiring Ben Higson from University of Stirling. Swimmers based at Stirling include Commonwealth Games champion Ross Murdoch and Olympic Games finalist Duncan Scott.
Rudd and the Irish swimmers have the European Short Course Championships this December, as well as next year’s European Long Course Championships on the horizon, putting their fresh talent to the international test once again.