A young Libyan woman who started her swimming training in Malta will be representing her country at the Rio Olympics.
“I feel very privileged and proud to represent Libya at the Olympics. I remember watching the swimming events at the London Olympics in 2012 from my grandfather’s farm in Libya, where we used to spend our summer holidays, and thought how great it would be to represent Libya at the next Olympics,” Daniah Hagul told this newspaper.
The 17-year-old, Libya’s only female swimmer at the 2016 Olympics, will be competing in the 100-metre breaststroke heat event on August 7.
The young athlete was born in Malta and she has lived most of her life here. She started swimming lessons with Albert Chun and his club and then moved to the Inspire Swimming club. Aged four, she could already swim very well and decided to take up competitive swimming aged 12, when she joined the Neptunes Waterpolo and Swimming Club, where she trained until last year. She believes that growing up in Malta was “instrumental” to help her swimming journey so far.
Maltese parents attach a lot of importance to swimming and it’s great that they teach children to start swimming from a young age
“My parents realised the importance of learning to swim properly and, when my brother and I were very young, we started swimming lessons… I think Maltese parents attach a lot of importance to swimming and it’s great that they teach children to start swimming from a young age.”
In September 2015, Ms Hagul joined Mount Kelly, a school in Devon, England, with a dedicated swimming programme under the supervision of Robin Brew, who had himself represented Great Britain at the 1984 Olympics.
She represented Libya at the World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August of last year, her first major Fina (International Swimming Federation) event. By successfully competing at the championships, her name was put forward to represent Libya in Rio.
The following December, she took part in her second international competition, representing Libya at the Qatar Swimming Championships in Doha (for the under-17s). She won three gold medals in the three events she participated in.
Due to the ongoing situation in Libya, funds from the authorities for her Olympics training were limited, so she launched a crowdfunding campaign to help with the expenses.
Her successful funding campaign and the fact that she is the only Libyan female swimmer generated a lot of interest in the international media.
Noting that a few Libyan girls have already represented Libya in past Olympics swimming events, her parents, Samira and Bashir, hope that, by taking up competitive swimming and representing Libya at international events, she would help pave the way for more girls to follow suit.
“We are very aware that, culturally, female swimming is not a very popular concept in Libya at this time. However, we have had tremendous support from family and friends and many others, in and out of Libya,” they said.
Quoting the founder of the modern Olympics, who said that the important thing is not to win but to take part and what is essential is not victory but the certainty that you fought well, her parents noted that what Pierre de Coubertin said was appropriate for all competing athletes.
Ms Hagul meanwhile feels it is important for Libyans to realise that merely participating in the Olympics is in itself of significance for Libya’s international image.