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Swimmer Gan Ching Hwee finally gets her Olympic debut

In an ironic twist, national swimmer Gan Ching Hwee is the one person who truly understands what Quah Ting Wen is going through in the Olympic selection storm that has engulfed both athletes.

In her first public comments on July 10 since she was picked over Quah for the women’s 4x100m medley relay, Gan appeared calm when she spoke to The Straits Times but was visibly emotional and had to compose herself several times.

Despite the controversy, the 20-year-old is staying focused on her task ahead. She said: “I am (feeling) okay. As an athlete, I try not to be distracted by all the things that are going on right now. My main priority right now is still focusing on preparations for the Games.

“Obviously (I have seen the media coverage), everyone has social media accounts. But I try not to be distracted by it and I channelled my focus into things that I can control.”

In 2021, ahead of the Tokyo Games, Gan was in the same situation as her teammate. She went through a roller coaster of emotions – from the initial excitement of making her Olympic debut to crushing disappointment, when she lost her spot to Quah after the latter’s appeal.

The tears flowed freely then, and again on July 8, but this time there were tears of joy after her Olympic bow was finally confirmed.

The freestyle specialist was speaking to media on the sidelines of Singapore Aquatics’ (SAQ) sponsorship announcement with Trans Eurokars-Mazda for the World Aquatics Swimming World Cup.

When asked, Gan noted that she has not spoken to Quah since July 8, when it was confirmed that she will be taking the latter’s place in Paris. This was after Quah’s appeal to SAQ, and the national sports association’s appeal to World Aquatics, were rejected.

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

Her Olympic debut is belated as three years ago, SAQ – then known as the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) – announced that Quah would go to Tokyo on a universality place 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” timing.

SSA’s selection committee initially picked Gan but Quah had the decision overturned on appeal.

Gan said: “There were a lot of tears. But I went back to train. I’m just really glad I didn’t give up. It would have been so easy to throw in the towel.

“Now that I have gotten my ticket to Paris, I think success to me is more than that. It’s actually about the journey that I’ve been on, the lessons I’ve learnt, being able to bounce back from adversity and setbacks, and most importantly, the person I’ve grown to become after all this.”

This time, she met the “B” cut after clocking a national record 16min 10.61sec for the 1,500m free at the Singapore national championships on June 15. That earned her a World Aquatics invite and she got the news on July 5.

She added: “I was overwhelmed and extremely happy. There was a lot of anxiousness, anticipation on whether I would or would not make it because the quota has drastically reduced from the past few Games.”

Since breaking onto the scene as a precocious 12-year-old, Gan has been blazing a trail in distance swimming. In 2018, she was just 15 when she clocked her first senior national record in the 1,500m free (16:39.70) at the 2018 Asian Games.

She has since notched more personal bests in the event, and also in the 800m free. At the 2023 SEA Games, Gan took home four golds in the 200m, 400m and 800m free and 4x200m free relay.

With the selection issue now over, she is aiming for personal bests in her individual races, and to help the relay team notch more milestones at the Games – Quah, her younger sister Jing Wen, Letitia and Levenia Sim were the first Singaporean relay quartet to qualify for the Olympics.

Gan said: “I am a long distance swimmer but I’ve been in relay teams so relays are not extremely new to me, and when called upon, I will step up and do my best for the country, for my team.

“Ultimately, I want to be part of the world-class distance swimmers. Hopefully I can get into the top eight at the world championships in 2025.”

OLYMPICS 2024SwimmingSINGAPORE SPORTSTeam SingaporeQuah Ting Wen