When the 13-year-old Gaurika Singh returns to school in north London on 6 September she is going to have a great tale to tell her friends. “What did you do on your summer holidays, Gaurika?” Her truthful reply – “Not much, apart from winning my heat at the Rio Olympics” – will merely be the latest remarkable story in a young life already lived to the full.
As the youngest competitor at these Games Singh would have been guaranteed attention even had she not already survived the massive earthquake that struck her native Nepal last year. Almost 9,000 lives were lost but Singh, despite being in a five-storey building, was among the lucky survivors. Now she lives and trains in London where her father, Paras, is a urologist at the Royal Free hospital.
Her training at Barnet Copthall appears to be paying off, judging by the assured manner in which she eased to victory in her heat of the 100m backstroke against rival swimmers from Kosovo and Samoa. Given her youth and the fact she already holds seven Nepalese national records, it is conceivable she could yet feature at the next four Olympics, with Tokyo in 2020 already on her radar. “I’d like to do as many as I can,” she said.
The only hiccup on this occasion was a slight wardrobe malfunction just before her race. “Before my race I ripped my swimsuit and had to ask my coach whether I should change it. I was trying to pull up my costume and my nail dug into the costume and went through it, so I had to change to a different suit. That made me feel a bit nervous.”
One would never have guessed it from her impressive post-race demeanour. Her next commitment, rather than catching up on homework, will be sampling the wider Games experience before flying home later this week. Bumping into one of her swimming idols, Mitch Larkin, has already been a thrill but, once the excitement dies down, she will once again reflect on her lucky escape last year. “I felt so grateful that I was one who survived that whole earthquake, so just to be here to make my country proud is great.
“It was terrifying. We were on the fifth floor of a building that we couldn’t escape from, so we sheltered under a table for 10 minutes in the middle of the room and had to go down the stairs afterwards amid the aftershocks. Fortunately it was a new building, so it did not collapse like others around.”
Along with the similarly inspirational Syrian refugee swimmer, Yusra Mardini, Singh deserves everyone’s thanks for lending a timely dash of perspective to the often self-obsessed Olympic whirl. (The Guardian)