Nepal’s Singh set to become Rio’s youngest competitor

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RIO DE JANEIRO: Nepali swimmer Gaurika Singh, already a seasoned international competitor at 13, is poised to become the youngest Olympian in Rio when she hits the water in the 100m backstroke heats on Sunday.

“That’s quite cool, a bit unreal, too,” said Singh, who will be 13 years and 255 days old.

It’s not surprising the London-based schoolgirl, who swims for English club Barnet Copthall, is undaunted by the prospect. She has already lived through the 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal, leaving nearly 9,000 dead.

“It was terrifying,” she said of the experience she endured with her mother, Garima, and younger brother Sauren while they were back in Nepal for the national swimming championships.

The family, in a fifth-floor apartment of a building in Kathmandu, sheltered under a table before using the stairs to leave the building as the aftershocks rumbled.

“Fortunately, it was a new building so it did not collapse like others around,” she said.

A friend of Singh’s father later set up a charity to help rebuild schools and she donated her winnings from the restaged championships.

“They made me a goodwill ambassador,” said Singh, who returns to Nepal about once a year to visit family.

She swam the 100m backstroke at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, last August, and won four medals — three bronze and one silver — at the South Asian Games in India in February.

“It’s unbelievable that she’s the youngest Olympian in Rio and amazing how she copes with all the pressure,” said her father, Paras, who will be in Rio to cheer on the precocious star, who will be aiming to improve her own national record of 1min 07.31sec in the 100m back in Rio.

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