Gaurika Singh has become a household name after she won a record four gold medals in the 13th South Asian Games held in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur.
The 17-year-old not only became Nepal’s first-ever gold medal winner in individual event of swimming but also equalled taekwondo ace Deepak Bista’s record of four gold medals in the history of SA Games. The youngest athlete of Rio Olympic Games in Brazil three years ago, Singh stole limelight winning a total of nine medals — four gold, two silver and three bronze. Nepal finished with the record haul of 206 medals — record 51 gold, 60 silver and 95 bronze — on its way to finishing second for the second time.
How did you get into swimming?
It all started as a hobby. My parents wanted me to learn swimming as a life skill as they did not want me to drown into water. At the age of 11, I took part in a competition in Kathmandu while I was on a holiday. I won medals in my first outing and later it became a passion.
How much time and efforts did you put in for SA Games preparation?
It took me a lot of hard works. I did up to nine sessions after changing my school. I had to bunk my classes to manage time for swimming. I had to take tuition when I was at 11th standard and I had to stay away from my favourite foods. I was also not able to celebrate my birthday, which was a week before the SA Games. We celebrated it on December 10, a day after the swimming competition was over. As I need to focus in my training for much of the time, I do not have many friends and I had to stay back at home all the time.
How was the experience of winning first gold medal?
On paper, my timing was enough to win gold medal.
But it depends on how good you perform on a particular day and the performance of other swimmers also matters. I was scared a little bit as I had an allergy a couple of days ago and I had just recovered from shoulder injury. But everything went well and I was overwhelmed when I finished first.
How is your feeling after creating history?
It’s amazing. Actually I am surprised with the kind of attention I am getting. No one used to come around me in the past as they did not recognise me. But the situation is different this time around and I am overwhelmed as everyone wants to get a picture with me.
What did you feel when you equalled Deepak Bista’s record of four gold medals?
It was big deal to get a single gold medal and I am still amazed with that.
As far as record is concerned, I was not aware of any such achievements.
My parents do not tell me about these at all. They think that I will get nervous and come under pressure which will hamper my performance.
I am extremely happy to equal the record but I want someone to break it. I will be more than happy if a woman athlete breaks it as I think it will help Nepal sports grow further
Which one is the most special one among four gold medals?
The fourth one is special as I almost lost it. It won it with a margin of 0.02 seconds and the crowd reaction was awesome. Everyone was chanting my name and even I was not sure of getting the gold until I saw it on the score board.
What was the reaction of other countries’ swimmers after you claimed gold one after another?
They congratulated me for the achievements. They told me that the standard of Nepali swimming had gone up. Some of them were even shocked as many of my competitors knew my timing of previous edition held in India three years ago. They were not aware of my recent timing and progress.
Do you get full support from family?
I think it’s not possible without the support from family. Actually my mother does everything for me. She cooks for me, drives me to school, takes me to swimming and then back to home. Everyone says my mother keeps on pushing me and I am grateful to her. I have a passion in swimming and I enjoy the way she encourages me.
How is the feeling of justifying about your nationality time and again?
People say I am not a Nepali citizen as I live outside Nepal and train there. But I have only one passport and that is Nepali. My parents also have Nepali passports. People also tried to stop me from going to Rio Olympic Games in 2016 for the same reason. I represented Nepal in the 12th SA Games in India and won medals for the country. This time also, I won medals for my country.
You have become a role model for many.
Did you get inspired from anyone in this SA Games?
I was enthralled when I met Ayasha Shakya (taekwondo player) at the Prime Minister’s felicitation programme. Women usually stay back at home after giving birth to babies. But she won two gold medals despite having two babies. She is awesome and her story was very inspiring.
How do you manage time between studies and swimming?
It’s very difficult to manage time.
The only thing I do not have much with me is the time between my studies and training. I am thankful to my college for supporting me and allowing me for one-to-one tuition to cover the course. For now, I am enjoying swimming and will continue to do so. I want to go to United States of America after two years.
They have the best training facilities along with strong academics, which is a must after a point of time. I will have to quit swimming after the age of 30 and I need strong academic background to lead my life after career.
What is your next target?
All athletes have a common target: giving the best whether you come first or last. I also try to do the same every time I hit the water. I also got silver and bronze but people only talk about gold medals. They do not understand that we give our best all the time.
What do you want to say to the fans?
I am very much grateful to the crowd here as I received overwhelming support from them. I could win the fourth gold medal just because of the cheers and support from the crowd. But I am surprised to know that the fans have created a song entitled “Go For Gold”. Anyways I am grateful for all the love and support I received in the SA Games and beyond.
A version of this article appears in print on December 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.