Former MSU swimmer will compete in Olympics

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Jul. 10—Cheyenne Rova has competed in the Commonwealth Games and Pacific Games, both highly prestigious international events.

But the former Minnesota State swimmer had not competed in the Olympic Games, so she decided to give it a shot.

"It's always been in the back of my mind," said Rova, just wrapping up two weeks of training in Sydney, Australia. "I'm the kind of person who likes to take one competition at a time, but since I'd never been to the Olympics, I thought I'd try out."

Later this month, Rova will be swimming in the 50-meter freestyle, representing her home country of Fiji at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Rova came to the United States in 2013 through a program of the Australian Olympic Committee, which helps athletes find college programs in the United States. She spent two years at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, before looking for another university to continue her academic and athletic career.

She considered a couple of colleges in California, but she made just one visit, coming to Minnesota State so that she could be close to her younger sister Adele, who had one year left at Iowa Lakes.

Rova joined the Minnesota State women's swimming and diving team in 2015 and won conference championships in the 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay.

As a senior, Rova won six events at the conference meet: 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle, 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay. She earned All-American honors at the NCAA meet by finishing third in the 50 freestyle, third in the 200 freestyle relay, fifth in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 400 freestyle relay.

After she was done with swimming, she remained at Minnesota State for two years as a graduate assistant coach. She then returned to Fiji and took a job as a physical education and health teacher and continued swimming with her local club.

"Everything was shut down because of COVID so I was using my 15-meter pool at home," she said.

Rova still remains in contact with some of her former teammates at Minnesota State, and she often talks with Minnesota State coach Nathan Owens, who helps to craft her workouts by reminding her about her strengths and what she's done to have success in the past.

"She's a world-class swimmer, no question about that," Owens said. "I'm super happy for her."

Rova will be Minnesota State's first female student-athlete to compete in the Summer Olympics.

Minnesota State has had women's athletes compete in the Winter Olympics. Nina Tikkinen was a member of the Finnish women's hockey team at the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver, and Emila Andersson played on Sweden's women's hockey team at the 2010 Olympics and 2014 Olympics at Sochi, Russia.

David Backes competed for Team USA in men's hockey in 2010 and 2014, while sprinter Emmanuel Matadi competed for Liberia at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Brazil. Matadi will also be in Tokyo, running the 100-meter dash.

Fiji only sends one male and one female swimmer to the Olympics, and Rova will compete in just one event. The Olympics begin on Friday, July 23, with the women's 50 freestyle prelims on Friday, July 30. The semifinals are Saturday, July 31, with the finals on Sunday, Aug. 1.

Having not competed against other swimmers for so long, she's not letting her expectations get too high.

"I really hope I just get my best time," she said. "My splits in practice have been pretty good. I'm excited to see how I do."

She is back in Fiji, a small island in the South Pacific, nearly 3,000 miles east of Australia, and will fly to Japan on July 19, staying in a team bubble before heading for Tokyo.

"I haven't really thought much about it yet," she said. "But once I start traveling, I think it will feel more real."

It appears that no fans will be allowed at any of the Olympic venues because of rising COVID cases. She hopes to attend the opening ceremonies, but she's heard that only one member of each Olympic team will be allowed at the event, carrying that country's flag.

When she gets to the pool, she expects the nerves to kick in.

"It's exciting to compete against the best in the world," she said. "It should be fun. I'm very excited to see everything."

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.

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