For many athletes with dual nationality, choosing the country they will represent can be a tough decision.
Several factors must come into that choice, and you could forgive a competitor for being anxious as to whether they are choosing correctly. But for teenage swimmer Lianna Swan, representing Pakistan was a no-brainer.
Born to a British father and a Pakistani mother in Bahrain in 1997, Swan began taking swimming seriously when she moved to Dubai five years ago and started training with Hamilton Aquatics.
And next week she will compete at her first World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, where the 16-year-old will rub shoulders with the best swimmers on the planet; a chance she probably would not have got at this stage of her career had she opted to represent Great Britain.
With less than a handful of Pakistani females representing the country on the international stage, Swan seized a great opportunity in deciding to compete for her mother’s homeland, who she will proudly represent in Barcelona courtesy of a wildcard invitation from FINA, the global governing body of the sport.
Swimmers mostly compete at the world championships or the Olympics by achieving either A-standard or B-standard qualifying times, but countries without qualified swimmers receive wildcard invitations from FINA.
“I would get a lot more out of being part of the Pakistan team because there’s a lot more people trying for the British team,” Swan told Sport360° poolside in Dubai, ahead of her trip to Barcelona.
“The British team is really prestigious as well, but being able to swim for your country, any country, is an achievement.
“I think when I first started swimming for Pakistan, that was the turning point for me.
“Before that I was competing in just the meets that everyone else would do over here. Obviously I’d try to beat my times, but when I got my Pakistani passport and I started swimming for Pakistan, it all became a lot more real. I now have to not only get my times but improve on their national times as well, so that’s when I started taking it seriously.”
Swan is a breaststroke specialist and will take part in the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley in the Catalan city next week. She holds numerous Pakistan national records and is hoping to set some new ones at the championships.
“I’m more nervous than excited,” Swan said of her looming trip to Barcelona. “It’s always very nerve-wracking when your team’s not there because when I’m there I’m by myself. But over here, when I compete with Hamilton, there’s like 50 other kids and they’re all shouting for you. But at international competitions it’s just me. It’s kind of lonely.”
Rising star: Lianna set 10 records at the Pakistan Junior Nationals in March 2012.
But Swan will not be completely on her own. She will be joined by fellow Hamilton Aquatics swimmer Velimir Stjepanovic and his coach Chris Tidey. Stjepanovic made the 200m butterfly final at the London 2012 Olympics and Swan says the Serb has been a huge inspiration for her.
“I think he motivates all of us,” she added. “Because we don’t see Velimir as someone famous. We see him as a team-mate. So when we were training with him last year and two years ago, he was just someone who was very good and then he made it so far in the Olympics, then all of us finally understood how much he had to do and how much we would have to do to get to where he went.”
Swan’s ultimate dream is to qualify for the Olympics without the virtue of a wildcard and she says she will do everything she can to achieve that goal. Her coach, Ash Morris, says that target is achievable if she continues to work hard.
“Going to the Olympics would be an amazing thing, but I think even more would be for me to get just a B-qualifying time,” she added. “Firstly, because it would be amazing to go to the Olympics but also no other girl from Pakistan has got a qualifying time for the Olympics, and I think that getting to that stage would make people in Pakistan realise that swimming is an important sport.”
Encouraging other girls to take up swimming is one of the achievements Swan is most proud of, especially considering how uncommon it is as a sport amongst females in both Pakistan and the UAE.
When Swan travels to Pakistan to compete, she does so without her coach. She explains that the sport is segregated there and no men are allowed to attend women’s competitions. In the UAE the galas are mixed but there are virtually no Emirati girls and she hopes her achievements can help change that.
“It is nice knowing that maybe you’re encouraging other girls to come and swim,” concluded the Jumeirah College student.
FACTFILE Her biggest supporter: Mother Nadia Swimming idols: Ryan Lochte and Theresa Al Shammar Training programme: Eight sessions a week of one hour 45 minutes each Favourite race: 200m individual medley