Making a name for herself: Malaysian freshman swimmer Elynn Tan stands out


Katlyn Campbell/Iowa State Daily

Freshman Elynn Tan swims in lane three during the Women 100 Fly competition Oct. 12 at the Cardinal and Gold swim meet in Beyer Hall. Tan finished with a time of 57.37.

John Miller

Elynn Tan has had one of the most outstanding seasons for a Cyclone freshman swimmer in recent history.

But before she began setting records, she was one of the best female swimmers in Malaysia. How that journey started was rather unconventional for the Penang, Malaysia native.

“My mom said if you grow up on an island, you need to know how to swim in case of a tsunami,” Tan said.

That risk made Tan want to at least try swimming, so she decided to tag along to the pool one day.

“I didn’t like it [swimming] at first until one day when there was this treasure hunt where they put a bunch of coins in the pool and had the kids race down for them,” Tan said. “I was hesitant to go down after them, but I convinced myself to try and that gave me the confidence to know that I could actually be good at this one day.”

With the help of her brother Alwyn, who would later go on to swim at Stanford, she kept putting in the necessary time.

Soon enough, she became one of the top female swimmers in Malaysia.

Tan won the Malaysia Invitational in the sprint freestyle from 2015-18 and in the butterfly events in 2017 and 2018. At the 2018 Malaysia Games, Tan brought home five gold medals in the 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke, 100 butterfly and the 100 freestyle.

Moreover, Tan was named the 2016 and 2017 Penang Female Athlete of the Year in swimming.

When Tan followed in her brother’s footsteps and decided to continue her swimming career in the United States, she looked at many programs.

Ultimately, Iowa State was the one she liked the most because it had something other programs didn’t — unity.

“Everyone on the team works together and cheers for each other,” Tan said.

As Tan came over to compete at Iowa State, she faced a huge challenge. She was a long-course swimmer in Malaysia.

Long-course means that Tan had never encountered a 25-yard pool because the ones in Malaysia were 50 meters, which means on a race like the 50 butterfly where she excels, she wouldn’t even have to turn.

“In the American system, you really have to become a great turner and an underwater swimmer,” said coach Duane Sorenson. “It’s a lot about timing, rhythm and using the walls to your advantage here.”

Another major challenge Tan has faced is the competition meet style.

In Malaysia, she would swim about one event every four hours, but now it’s four events within a few hours in a normal dual meet.

As tiring as it can be, Tan loves the challenge.

“The team cheers me on so well here, and it makes swimming so much fun to be around,” Tan said.

Despite the adjustments, they have not slowed Tan down from succeeding.

Currently, Tan holds the best time ever recorded by a Cyclone freshman in the 100 butterfly (55.23), as well as the second and fourth best times in the 50 freestyle (23.33) and 100 freestyle (51.18). 

Tan’s time in the 100 butterfly is eighth on Iowa State’s all-time performers list. She also holds places on the top 20 list in the 50 freestyle (ninth) and 100 freestyle (17th).

“She has the ability to be great, it is just a matter of continuing to commit her time,” Sorenson said. “The best thing is that she is very coachable, has a great personality and her teammates enjoy being around her.”

Nonetheless, Tan’s role in the Cyclones is not limited to individual events.

She has been an integral part of the 200 and 400 medley relays that are tied for fifth all-time in Cyclone history, with times of 1:32.77 and 3:23.35, respectively.

“Although she [Tan] wasn’t used to the team aspect before, she has picked up on things really fast,” said fellow freshman swimmer Jennifer Roessler.

Roessler tore her ACL this spring, knocking her out of competition for the Cyclones this year.

As she has been training to come back, Elynn has been there for her through everything.

“Elynn has been there the whole way for me, and I think that goes to show the type of person she is,” Roessler said. “I’m excited to watch her down the stretch.”

The Cyclones’ next meet is the biggest one of the year — the Big 12 Championships.

It is here where the team will see the best competition it has all year, with no exception for Tan.

Texas and Kansas are exceptional programs with swimmers that compete at the NCAAs often; therefore, it will be challenging for Tan to place high.

That said, Tan believes a good goal for herself would be a top eight placing.

“I’m kinda nervous for Big 12s, but I feel that I’ve been improving a lot and I’m excited for the chance to prove myself,” Tan said.

A top eight placing would mean that Tan would achieve all-Big 12 honors, which would be an outstanding accomplishment for a freshman.

“We’re just going to have her absorb it all and be as competitive as she can be and really use this first year as a learning experience for what she needs to work on for the future,” Sorenson said.