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After a false start, Singapore swimmer Gan Ching Hwee finally makes her Olympic debut

SINGAPORE – In a strange and ironic twist, the only person who truly understands what national swimmer Quah Ting Wen is going through in the recent Olympic selection storm is the very person who will take her place at the Paris Olympics: Gan Ching Hwee.

Three years ago, ahead of the Tokyo Games, Gan found herself in the same situation as her teammate. She went through a rollercoaster of emotions: from the initial excitement of making her Olympic debut to the crushing disappointment when she lost her place to Quah after the latter’s appeal.

The tears flowed freely then and again on July 8, but this time they were tears of joy after her participation in the Olympics was finally confirmed.

In her first media interview on July 10 since the selection controversy erupted last weekend, Gan appeared calm when she spoke to The Straits Times but was visibly emotional and had to compose herself several times. The freestyle specialist was speaking on the sidelines of Singapore Aquatics’ (SAQ) sponsorship announcement with Trans Eurokars-Mazda for the World Aquatics World Cup.

The 20-year-old said: “I feel good. As an athlete, I try not to get distracted by everything that is happening right now. My main priority right now remains to focus on preparations for the Games.

“Obviously (I’ve seen the media coverage), everyone has social media accounts. But I try not to get distracted by that and channel my attention to things I can control.”

Asked, Gan said he has not spoken to Quah since July 8, when it was confirmed that she will take the latter’s place on the women’s 4x100m medley relay team in Paris. This came after Quah’s appeal to SAQ and that of the national sports association to World Aquatics were rejected.

In addition to the relay, Gan will also compete in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle.

Her Olympic debut was delayed, as in 2021, the SAQ (then known as the Singapore Swimming Association, SSA) announced that Quah would go to Tokyo with a universal spot based on her World Aquatics (formerly Fina) ranking. But two days later, Fina sent an invitation to Gan based on her Olympic Consideration Time (OCT), or “B” time.

The SSA selection committee initially chose Gan, but Quah successfully overturned the decision on appeal.

Gan said: “There were a lot of tears, but I got back into training. I am very happy that I didn’t give up. It would have been very easy to throw in the towel.

“Now that I have my ticket to Paris, I think success for me is much more than that. It’s actually about the journey I’ve taken, the lessons I’ve learned, the ability to bounce back from adversity and setbacks, and most importantly, the person I’ve become after all of this.”

This time, she made it to the “B” level after clocking a national record of 16 minutes and 10.61 seconds at the Singapore National Swimming Championships on June 15. That earned her an invitation to World Aquatics and she received the news on July 5.

She added: “I was overwhelmed and very happy. There was a lot of anxiety, anticipation about whether I would make it or not, because the quota has been drastically reduced since the last Games.”

Since bursting onto the scene at age 12, Gan has been blazing a trail in long-distance swimming. In 2018, she was just 15 when she set her first senior national record in the 1,500m freestyle (16:39.70) at the Asian Games.

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