It’s been a long road since Samoan swimmer Evelina Afoa’s first appearance on a world stage at the 2013 FINA Swimming World Championships to competing in the Rio Olympics on Sunday 7th August.
17 year old Evelina made her Olympic debut in the Women’s 100m Backstroke event at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium in Rio.
Finishing second in her heat, with a time of 1:08.74, just 0.31 seconds shy of her qualifying time set at last year’s World Championships in Kazan, Evelina took us through her performance:
“I felt really good on my first 50m – I was really fast on my start which was what I wanted.”
Evelina shot through her first length in first place with a time of 32.24 but started to lose speed by the second 50m.
“I’m so dead after that second 50m! It really took it out of me, but I’m glad I raced it and did alright.”
Keen to learn from her experience, Evelina pointed out areas for future improvement:
“I will definitely need to work on my ending, I think that needs a little work still. And trying to be more mentally prepared, because I was so nervous leading up to it!”
The Samoan, who is now attending university in Queensland, Australia, explained the tactic that got her through a tough final length:
“During the race, especially towards the end when I was starting to wear out, I was just thinking of everyone back home and just trying to keep going for them.”
It’s clear that the swimmer’s family and friends are a big motivator for her, and that doing them proud was of the utmost importance.
“The main goal for me was to try and swim so that I could encourage others back home, and also reassure my family and friends that I take into account everything that they do for me, so I swam my heart out for them.”
As she gains more experience in each event she attends, Evelina is becoming increasingly aware of the significance of her performance in inspiring the next generation of Samoan swimmers. She is not taking her position as role model lightly.
“It’s a huge thing for me – I think swimming is really underestimated back in Samoa so it’s good to be one of the advocates for it. In Samoa, not many people take swimming seriously as a sport. If we all saw it as more of a competitive sport for the country, we as Samoans, and islanders in general could really go somewhere with it.”
For Evelina, her presence at the Olympic Games is a notable landmark in her progression as an athlete, describing the Games as “a huge step up” from the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
“It’s amazing. Words can’t describe how excited I am to be here and how much of an honour it is to represent not only my country, but my family and everyone who has brought me here. It’s been incredible - the exposure is unbelievable. You just see superstars walking around – it’s so strange! But I love it, it’s great.”
Marking Evelina’s progress from her first world competition back in 2013, she has developed in more ways than just shaving time off her races.
“I’ve definitely matured a lot in terms of my attitude towards racing and towards the people I’m racing. It’s just been a huge learning curve ever since then and I look forward to the learning that’s still to come.”
Now that Evelina has completed her event, she is looking forward to spending some downtime at the Games:
“I’m looking forward to exploring the village more and getting to meet and know more people. And of course supporting my fellow Oceania swimmers as well.”
By Alice Toomer - McAlpine of The Reporters' Academy