Swimmer Gary Tan had never heard of Brigham Young growing up on the other side of the world on the eastern coast of Singapore.
The 5-10, 165-pound junior grew up with swimming as a family tradition with two of his older brothers competing in the sport. His father also had a great influence in his swimming career.
In his four years of high school experience, Tan never experienced defeat, winning every competition he swam. He was a four-time national age-group champion in the 100 backstroke, 200 back, 200 individual medley and 400 IM.
Tan heard of BYU through his roommate Terrance Lim, a distance competitor currently on the team. Lim's older sister, Eadelin, swam for BYU and she informed Tan about the school and later he wrote a letter to head swim coach Tim Powers.
"Gary comes to us from a long line of swimmers from Singapore," said Powers. Those other Singapore swimmers include: David Lim, who was a conference champion at BYU later went on to swim professionally at an international level, and the Oon brothers, Jin Gee and Jin Teik. They were followed by Sootho Kok Mun, Ng Yue Meng, Poon Kah Leong and now Terrance Lim.
"He (Gary) came into our program very young when he was only 17 years old," said Powers. "He steadily improves with each season and has a great work ethic. He has become a go-to swimmer in many of our competitions"
Coming to BYU was an easy transition for Tan. He had no trouble adapting to the language because in Singapore, English is a common second language along with Mandarin Chinese, of which he speaks both fluently.
"BYU is a great place. Everybody is really friendly," said Tan. It is not like any other college anywhere. At first, my transition here was a bit weird, but after a while it was very easy to feel welcome."
Although Tan didn't know what to expect coming to Utah, he knew he wanted to swim on a good program and receive a quality education. During his freshman campaign, he made and immediate impact on the team winning Mountain West Conference Swimmer of the Week honors in his first month of collegiate competition. He also posted a team-high in the 200 IM. He finished off his first year as a MWC finalist in 100 back and 200 IM. He won seven events during the regular season and was Academic All-Conference.
As a sophomore, Tan won 14 individual events during the season. Tan teamed up with All-American teammate Arunas Savickas and provided an unbeatable 1-2 punch in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. He finished second behind Savickas at the MWC Championships in both the 100 and 200 back. He won the MWC Swimmer of the Week award again on Nov. 1, 2000 and was also a Cougar Club Scholar Athlete.
Tan is currently the defending MWC champion in the 200 Individual Medley (This event includes 50 yards of breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle). Tan set a conference-record time of 1:49.42 that still stands. Tan was also a part of the 400-medley relay team on last season's 12-0 men's team that finished in the top 20.
This year he swims an important role on a team that has won 19 straight dual meets. He also holds the fastest time in the conference this season so far in the 200 IM with a time of 151.13, four seconds ahead of second place. Tan also swims an important role on the 400-medley relay for the 3-0 Cougars this season.
On a personal note, roommate Christopher Johnson, who is also on the swim team, calls Tan a "psychological predator". Johnson describes Tan as a very focused and confidant.
"Gary manages to block everything else out of his mind and concentrate solely on the event," says Johnson.
Tan also enjoys another type of pool. Not the swimming pool, but billiards. He plays occasionally against roommate and teammate Terrance Lim. Lim holds the bragging rights as Tan admits that he frequently loses.
Tan experienced an interesting off-season this year filled with achievements and surprises. He competed in the Southeastern Asian games in Malaysia and won two gold medals competing as part of relay teams. Tan also picked up three individual silver medals and one bronze. He was already going to be a little bit late for the start of fall semester, but the terrorists attacks on September 11th made him question if he would even return to the United States.
"I have a friend who swims for a college in New York and he didn't return this semester because his parents were afraid of any further attacks," said Tan. "My parents weren't comfortable with me coming back to the United States after they saw what happened on TV."
Fortunately for his education and for the team's sake, Tan returned to class almost a week later than expected due to the unforgettable tragic event. He really wanted to get back into school and was able to convince his parents that it would be safe for him to return to Utah, far away from the East coast. The next challenge ahead for him was getting caught up in his schoolwork as a psychology major.
"There were some teachers that were pretty hard to convince to even let me stay enrolled in their class after starting that late in the semester," expressed Tan. "I pleaded with them to give me a chance and fortunately they allowed me to catch up."
"I encountered another setback when I later fell sick and missed almost a week of class and training," recalls Tan. "This semester has been really tough."
Tan is not unfamiliar with starting the fall semester after everyone else. Last year he started classes late because he represented his home country of Singapore in the 2000 Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. He competed in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke.
When asked about this marvelous experience, Tan says, "It was amazing to swim with the world's best. There are not many people that can say they participated in the Olympics. It was a great honor and achievement for my career."
Tan's goals for this season are to make the NCAAs at the end of the regular season. Last year he came close to competing in the NCAA finals in the 200 yard Individual Medley. He looks forward to finishing his career here in Provo and hopes to further his education and receive his master's degree as well.
"My ultimate goal would be able to swim professionally for at least a year or two after my collegiate career is finished."