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The story of Gaurika Singh, the youngest athlete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games

  05/08/2016 मा प्रकाशित

The 100 metre backstroker, who now lives in London after leaving Nepal as a two-year-old, is also a survivor of the earthquake that shook Nepal to its core and killed almost 9000 people in April last year.

There she was, preparing to compete in the Nepalese national swimming championship with her family in Kathmandu, when she was forced to take shelter under a table in a five-storey office building fearing for her life.

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Needless to say there was no pool left to compete in after 3.5 million people were left homeless as a result of the earthquake.

There are few details Singh remembers of the natural disaster which also injured more than 20,000 locals, but she vividly recalls her mother Garima yelling at her brother Sauren for what she at the time thought was her son knocking over the cupboard.

“One of the cupboards had fallen and my mother was shouting because she thought my brother had tipped it over,” Singh told Fairfax Media.

“Luckily we were in a new office building, so it shook but nothing got damaged and it didn’t collapse. But the places around us were destroyed. I can’t really remember anything. It was just one big blur with everything shaking. There was water everywhere. There’s a pond out the front of our house and all the water had come out and there were fish all over the floor.

“There was a gate out the front of our house so we weren’t able to see anything. But we did take a drive to see everything and there were walls collapsed everywhere. I was so scared. My mum didn’t let me see any of the suffering. Mum thought it would be too traumatic and I didn’t want to see people dying. But I remember on the aeroplane leaving I was thinking ‘is it going to go again as we’re taking off?’.”

Singh was stopped by security trying to enter the Olympic pool in Rio.

“Sorry, athletes only”, the politely spoken woman said to Singh before flashing her accreditation to gain access to the pool deck.

It’s hard to believe this baby-faced girl with braces, who will start the ninth grade when she returns to school in London next month, is an Olympian.

It was just one big blur with everything shaking. There was water everywhere. There’s a pond out the front of our house and all the water had come out and there were fish all over the floor

One of five, to be exact, who will march out on to the Maracana representing Nepal on Friday.

While those around her struggle to come to terms with her achievement, even Singh can’t believe she is in the company of people she considers heroes – including two high profile Australians.

“There are two Australian swimmers I really like – Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm.” Singh said.

“I was swimming today and I looked next to me and Mitch was just swimming next to me. I was staring at him and he was just looking at me like ‘why is she staring at me’. I didn’t speak to him, I was too scared.

“They are amazing backstrokers. I was in the same heat as Emily Sebohm in Dubai. I hadn’t even started and she was at the other end of the pool. I’ve spoken to her before. She’s really nice. She helped me get my straps on once.”

Singh attends a prestigious school in London called Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, settling in the English capital where her father Paras, who has joined his daughter in Rio, works as a urologist at the Royal Free Hospital.

As a result of her father’s career, Singh has lived in Scotland and also spent time in Leeds and Preston in England before settling in London, where she has made friends who are no strangers to stardom at a young age.

“My friends are really happy for me but they are also good at stuff,” she said.

“One of my best friends plays Matilda on West End and another one went to junior Wimbledon. So we’re all good at different things. While I’m here I’d love to get a PB (personal best). But, oh God, that will be like nine seconds behind the best swimmers.”

Despite living just two years of her life in Nepal, Singh is passionate about her family’s history and insists representing Britain wasn’t something she considered despite being eligible.

“Eventually I could have represented England, but I’m not English so there’s not much point being Nepalese and representing Britain,” she said.

“I’m Nepalese, I’m not English or anything else.”

After the Olympics she will head to Nepal with family, but this time she will return a national treasure.