x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Mission possible for Dubai schoolgirl Lianna Swan

Lianna Swan will be representing Pakistan when she goes in the morning heats of 400 metres individual medley at the Asian Swimming Championships.

Lianna Swan, at 15, will be representing Pakistan in the Asian Championships though she trains at the Hamilton Centre. Lee Hoagland / The National
Lianna Swan, at 15, will be representing Pakistan in the Asian Championships though she trains at the Hamilton Centre. Lee Hoagland / The National

This morning, a Jumeirah schoolgirl will make the next strokes of a journey she hopes will take her to the Olympic Games in four years' time - fuelled by the knowledge that one of her clubmates in Dubai did exactly that this summer.

Lianna Swan will be representing Pakistan when she goes in the morning heats of 400 metres individual medley at the Asian Swimming Championships.

As a product of expatriate Dubai, though, the 15-year-old Jumeirah College pupil's story is a typically international one.

Born in Bahrain, to a British father and Pakistani mother, she was inspired by the success of her Hamilton Aquatics clubmate Velimir Stjepanovic in reaching the finals at London 2012 representing Serbia.

The rise of the Abu Dhabi-born Stjepanovic from the school swimming pools of the UAE to the very top of his field has had a marked effect on his colleagues. The likes of Swan have realised it can be done.

"I'm pretty sure everyone thought that," said Swan, who confesses to getting nervous ahead of inter-club swimming galas, let alone today's continental championships.

"Maybe the younger ones were thinking about eight years' time, but for all of us we were imagining what it would be like to do that.

"It was brilliant seeing him on TV when we see him every day at training. I was in England watching it at my gran's house and we were all really involved.

"He was against Michael Phelps and was in the lead for a bit. It was so exciting.

"I would love to be in that position one day, not even necessarily making the final, but just to reach the Olympics."

The teenager is linking up with the Pakistan team for her second international meeting this weekend, having first approached them when signalling her availability last year.

As she is yet to learn Urdu, she converses in English with her three colleagues on the national team, and concedes she sometimes feels slightly like a stranger to them.

However, she is intent on proving she belongs via her performances at the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex over the coming days.

"It is going to be an experience, I'm not going for first, second, third or anything like that, but I am going for Pakistan national records," she said.

Ash Morris, the coach at Hamilton who has overseen her development in the three years since the Swan family moved to Dubai, believes a Pakistan national record is well within her compass.

"She could have swum at the Olympics this summer because she was technically the fastest senior swimmer but they decided to take another girl," Morris said.

"Now it is her job to go and break the national records to cement her status. The aim of her entering the 400m IM is for her to break the national record.

"She has gone under the record previously but they haven't been recognised as they weren't at a Pakistan or Asian meet.

"She has to break the records again to prove a point."

 

pradley@thenational.ae