Quake survivor Singh puts Nepal on Asian swim map

Jakarta (AFP) –


Having survived a killer earthquake and an embarrassing wardrobe glitch at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Nepali swimmer Gaurika Singh is not your typical 15-year-old.

The bubbly schoolgirl made waves as the youngest athlete at the Olympics but is happy to shed that tag and reveals that she has come out of her shell since her baby-faced appearance in Brazil.

"A lot of my friends say I'm really loud, which is fair enough because I am," Singh told AFP at the Asian Games on Monday.

"I sometimes think in my head 'oh just shut up, Gaurika -- you're so annoying!' I'm a social person."

Singh, who left Nepal as a toddler to move to London, got into a flap in Rio when she tore her swimsuit before her 100m backstroke heat before slipping on a new costume and winning the race.

Fast forward two years and Singh is strolling around the Asian Games pool in Jakarta like a seasoned pro.

She is a whopping six years older than Indonesian skateboarder Aliqqa Novvery, who at nine is the youngest athlete at the Games.

"I was only just starting to swim at that age," said Singh, who is no longer even the youngest member of Nepal's swim team.

Her destiny could have taken a tragic turn three years ago, however, after getting caught on the top floor of a five-storey building in Kathmandu when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck, forcing her to dive under a table for shelter.

The killer quake claimed 9,000 lives but has done nothing to keep Singh away from her native country.

"It's kind of a blur," she said of that ordeal after swimming the 100m freestyle heats.

"My mum was with me but it was still really scary. I was just lucky.

"But I still go to Nepal twice a year -- not living there helps me appreciate it more. I love swimming for my country."

Singh trains with her national team every summer but practices in Britain the rest of the time.

Nepal has just one swimming pool after the other was destroyed in the quake and that freezes over in winter, ruling out anything other than gym work.

"It's weird to think people in England are so ungrateful sometimes," she sniffed.

"Moaning about having to swim in winter. People in Nepal would kill to."

Singh, who swims in the 200m free on Wednesday, reveals that she gets regular messages of support from friends back in Nepal but that she is banned from spending too much time online.

"My mum controls my Facebook," she laughed. "Some messages are not what a 15-year-old wants to hear -- like 'will you marry me?' I don't think I want to be exposed to that at my age!"