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Freestyle: Time is running out for Ireland's Olympic hopefuls

UCD's Alex Murphy is close to achieving a qualifying time for this summer's Olympics  
Gerry O'Neill

TIME is running out for Irish swimmers in their quest for qualifying times for places in the European Championships and Olympic Games.

The Swim Ireland-organised Irish Open Swimming Championships, which start on Thursday at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin, have attracted an entry of 400 competitors from 73 clubs from both home and abroad

While winning national titles is nice, the main target for the top swimmers will be to get inside the target times for the Rio Olympics in August before the cut off date of May 31. Fiona Doyle, Shane Ryan and Nicholas Quinn have all met the qualifying time in their respective disciplines for Rio, while a further 13 swimmers have gone under the required standard for the European Championships in London next month.

Sixteen-year-old BRA schoolboy Conor Ferguson and UCD student Alex Murphy are closest to achieving the FINA A qualifying times, with Ferguson a mere 0.27 seconds outside the time for the 100m backstroke and Murphy needing to knock 0.43 seconds off his personal best time in the 100m breaststroke. Both young men will also be part of an Ireland 4x100m medley relay team, along with Jordan Sloan and Brendan Hyland, who, on Saturday, will attempt to post a time that could qualify Ireland in a swimming relay event for the first time ever.

There are only 16 places in the games for relay events and, with the top 12 from the World Championships in 2015 gaining automatic entry, four places are up for grabs, which go to the countries that have recorded the fastest time by May 31.

One swimmer who will definitely be in Rio is Bethany Firth (20) from Seaforde in county Down, who set a new world record in the S14 Class of the 200m freestyle in a time of 2:03.70 while competing in the British Para-International in Glasgow this week.

Firth, who won gold for Ireland in the 2012 Paralympics in London in the S14 100m backstroke, will represent Great Britain this time around in Rio.

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