Kayla Sanchez of the Philippines competes in the women's 100m freestyle qualifiers during the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, eastern China's Zhejiang province, September 26, 2023. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP)

Kayla Sanchez is less than a second away from the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The ace swimmer hopes to bridge that gap when she competes at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, from February 2-18, where the double Olympic medalist will be able to reach the qualifying standard in the 100-meter and 50-meter freestyle events.

“Kayla is just three-tenths of a second off the qualifying standard in these events. This shows how close she is to getting a spot in Paris,” said Philippine Aquatics Secretary General Eric Buhain.

The International Olympic Committee recently waived the three-year residency requirement for athletes who change nationality, preparing Sanchez for his first Olympic stint in a Philippine uniform in the French capital.

Daughter of Filipino parents Susana of Baguio City and Noel of Mabalacat, Pampanga, Sanchez came under the radar of Philippine swimming officials when she helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay and a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

She delivered a combined 12 relay medals at world championships and the Olympics for Team Canada.

Sanchez got her first break wearing a Philippine team swimsuit at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, where she nearly reached the podium in two individual events.

In four individual events, she broke Philippine records and qualified in the finals of the 50m backstroke and 100m freestyle, the first time Sanchez has participated in competitive action since her residency in the country began in July 2022.

“We are actually sending seven swimmers to Doha (for the world championships). In addition to Kayla, we also have Xiandi Chua, who is also one second away from reaching Paris in the 200m backstroke,” said Buhain.

Universality rule

Once Sanchez and Chua reserve their places in Paris, the national swimming team will still have the right to send one more male swimmer based on the universality rule.

All countries at the Olympics are permitted to enlist one male and one female competitor in swimming and athletics through universal quota places if a nation is unable to send an athlete in those sports through normal qualification channels.

According to Buhain, they are looking for Southeast Asian Games medalists Jarod Hatch or Jerald Jacinto to fill the men's team spot in Paris.

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“I hope both Kayla and Xiandi are chosen for Paris. We might have three, depending on Jarod and Jerald’s races,” said Buhain, a swimming star in the 1990s.



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