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Meet Gaurika Singh, the youngest Olympian at Rio 2016

Last updated on: August 02, 2016 12:14 IST

The 13-year old swimmer from Nepal is also an earthquake survivor

IMAGE: Gaurika Singh of Nepal in action. Photograph: Rio2016.

The youngest athlete at Rio 2016, swimmer Gaurika Singh, has only just become a teenager. However, she is a 13-year-old with some decidedly serious life experiences.

Singh, who lives in London and will represent Nepal at the Olympic Games, was in Kathmandu for the national championships in April last year when a massive earthquake hit the region, killing an estimated 9,000 people as hundreds of buildings crashed to the ground.

"It was terrifying," said Singh, who was in Nepal with her mother and little brother Sauren. "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."

She said she was luckier than many. "Fortunately, it was a new building so it did not collapse like others around."

A friend of her father's subsequently set up a charity to help rebuild schools. Singh was determined to play her part and donated her winnings from the national championships, about 200 pounds sterling.

"They made me a goodwill ambassador," said Singh, who returns to Nepal about once a year to visit family. When she was two years old, the family migrated to England after her dad Paras, a doctor, started working in a London hospital.

IMAGE: People survey a site damaged by an earthquake, in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters.

One of the 20 best swimmers in her age group in Britain, Singh competes for the Barnet Copthall Club that has produced many international competitors. She first competed in the Nepal championships at the precocious age of 11.

In one of Kathmandu’s two 50-metre pools, Singh broke seven national records, prompting thoughts that she might make the Olympics. She has continued to break her own records.

"I wanted to go but wasn’t sure I’d be able to because I’d be too young," said the five-foot-one athlete. "When I found out a month ago, it was a big shock."

She will compete in the women's 100m backstroke. Her personal best is one minute, 8.12 seconds. The fastest competitor in the event, London 2012 silver medallist Emily Seebohm of Australia, is 11 years older than Singh and enters the heats with the top time of 58.26 seconds.

Paras believes his daughter, who gets up at 4am each day to train, deserves her success. "She’s special," he said. "It’s unbelievable that she's the youngest Olympian in Rio and amazing how she copes with all the pressure."

"My dad’s coming with me to Rio, and my grandparents and friends at school are really proud but they’re really good at their own things," said Singh.

The women's 100m backstroke is on August 8 at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio.

Courtesy: Rio2016