KARACHI: Swimming may be a favourite pastime for many and a tool for fitness for some, but when it comes to categorising the activity as a sport, especially at an international level, one will be hard put to find Pakistan’s name on the list of nations known for their swimmers.
But a certain 19-year-old is attempting to break the mould, with regional medals already under her belt along with seven national records. The teenager is also scheduled to be seen in action tomorrow at the ongoing Rio Olympics in the 50m freestyle event.
Lianna Catherine Swan will be competing with seven other swimmers in her heat, with a total of 92 swimmers in the category vying to earn a berth in the semi-finals.
The Bahrain-born swimmer booked her place in the Olympics through a wild-card entry, granted by the International Swimming Federation on the basis of her performance at the 16th World Aquatics Championship in Kazan, Russia last year.
Born in the Awali city of Bahrain, Lianna has been swimming since the age of 12 when she moved to Dubai, where she was quickly spotted for her talent.
“I started swimming a couple of times a week, and then gradually increased it to eight times a week, going before school in the mornings and then sometimes in the evening,” said Lianna.
She added that although she had to cut down the duration when she got into A-Levels, she made sure to give swimming her undivided attention whenever possible.
In her most recent achievements, Lianna won gold and silver medals in the women’s 200m and 100m breaststroke events respectively while representing her mother’s birth country at the 2016 South Asian Games (SAG) in India.
The swimmer possesses national records in both events with a time of 2min 48.85 sec in 200m and 1min 18.58sec in 100m. She holds a total of seven national records in 50m and 100m in freestyle, 50m and 100m in breaststroke, 200m in backstroke and 200m and 400m in individual medley.
Lianna was born to a British father and a Pakistani mother, so the young athlete had contrasting choices when it came to selecting the country to represent.
“It was difficult to choose in the beginning, but after discussing with the coach and my parents, I decide to go for Pakistan as I would get a lot more out of being a part of the Pakistan team, since there’s a lot more people trying for the Great Britain team,” said the Loughborough College student.
“I’m very happy to represent Pakistan and hopefully I can go as far as I can with them,” she said, adding that opting for Pakistan opened up many opportunities for her that may have not been the case had she chosen to try out for the Britain team.
The youngster is always looking to the future and renews her aims after accomplishing her immediate goals.
“It’s been hard work, I haven’t got to where I want to be at all, but the people in Pakistan have always been there to support me,” said Lianna. “I have been to many international competitions for Pakistan, and it’s because of the country that I’m here today at the Olympics.”
Lianna says she has seen Pakistan grow in terms of girls’ participation in the sport. “I go back nearly every year for nationals and there are girls swimming with no restrictions. It’s great to see that, but unfortunately the standard of facilities there are hardly enough to propel them to excellence.”
The SAG champion concluded by saying she has been training hard for the Olympics and will give her best to improve her 50m freestyle national record, which she currently holds with a finishing time of 28.66 sec.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2016.