RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Thirteen-year-old Gaurika Singh, the youngest athlete at the Rio Olympics, won her heat in the women's 100 metres backstroke Sunday after getting into a flap over a torn swimsuit.
The Nepali schoolgirl, who survived the killer earthquake that claimed 9,000 lives in her native country in April last year, quickly changed into a new costume before plunging into the pool for her moment of glory.
"It feels amazing," grinned Singh after winning her race in one minute, 8.45 seconds.
"It was amazing to look up at that board and see my time. I'm really grateful that I got this opportunity just to even be here." Singh, who is being coached by phone from London where she now lives after leaving Nepal as a toddler, was almost thrown off her stroke by a wardrobe crisis.
"I ripped my suit," she said, screwing up her nose. "I was trying to pull it up and my nail went right through it. It made me quite nervous." Singh hurriedly whipped out her smartphone to ask coach Rhys Gormley for advice.
"He's been texting me and sending me instructions, she said. "Just before my race he told me what to do. I had to ask him whether or not I should change my suit." She did.
Singh's destiny could have tragically altered after being caught on the top floor of a five-storey building in Kathmandu when the magnitude 7.8 quake struck, forcing her to dive under a table for shelter.
"It was scary," said Singh. "I just felt so grateful that I was one to survive through that terrible earthquake. Just to be here and try to do my country proud is amazing." One of seven Nepali athletes in Rio, Singh has been stopped from entering the Olympic pool by security officials sceptical that the baby-faced girl with braces on her teeth is really an athlete - until she flashes her accreditation.
Singh herself still has to pinch herself when she comes face to face with her heroes, Australian backstroke world champions Emily Seebohm and Mitchell Larkin, in the training pool.
"When we were training, Mitchell Larkin was swimming in the lane next to me," she said, excitedly. "I tried to speak to him but nothing came out of my mouth. I spoke to Emily in Dubai - she helped me get my straps on before my race."
Nepal, who have never won a medal at the Summer Olympics, have athletes competing in swimming, archery, athletics, judo and taekwondo in Rio.