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Olympic hopefuls set for splash in Dubai

Olympic hopefuls (from left) Isabell Fisher, Velimir Stjepanovic, Mubarak Ahmed and Karim Anab at a press conference ahead of the Dubai International Swimming Championships on Wednesday. (ALLAAM OUSMAN)

By Allaam Ousman

A host of top swimmers from around the world are hoping to use the second Dubai International Swimming Championships to be held this month in Dubai as a preparation event to qualify for the London Olympics.

Over 700 swimmers are ready to make a splash at the magnificent Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex from February 2 to 6.

This age group championship is being organised by the UAE Swimming Association in collaboration with the Dubai Sports Council and also coincides with the Dubai Shopping Festival.

Most of the federations in the region and international private clubs have sent swimmers for this championships while the bulk of UAE entries comes from Al Wasl, Al Nasr, Al Wahda and Al Ain, according to the Executive Director of UAE Swimming Association Ayman Saad.

Welcoming the swimmers, Saad told a press conference said on the first two days the events will be for children in the age group of Under 10, -11 and -13. "The Under 14, 15, 16 and 17 events will take place in the following days," he said.

"We are always looking to lift swimming. This is the world's best swimming complex where we held successful events like the World Swimming Championships," said Talal Hussein of the Dubai Sports Council.

Among the stars at the competition will be Abu Dhabi-born Velimir Stjepanovic from Serbia, UAE's Mubarak Ahmed, Germany's Isabell Fisher and Karim Anab of Jordan.

All of them are hoping to use the Dubai event as a platform to improve their timings before peaking ahead of trials for the Olympics.

"Ofcourse we would like to use this competiton like any, to have them get up and race as good as they can. We haven't put emphasis on trying to attempting to get specific times or personal bests," said UAE's swimming coach Jay Brenner.

He hopes to use this championship to select the UAE team for the Gulf championship to be held later this month.

"Older swimmers like Mubarak have just come off the Arab games six weeks ago and kind of getting back into reestablishing training. Mubarak had a great performance at Arab game just missing a medal at the 100 metre breast by 17 hundredths of a second. His development has come along in the last 18 months. We are just continuing to try and improve performance," said Brenner when asked what this championship means for UAE's elite swimmers.

Mubarak is aiming to qualify in the 50 metre freestyle and 100 metre breaststroke for the London games.

"I hope to train in the US from May, take part in competitions and qualify in July. I'm confident," said Ahmed who hopes to improves his 100 breaststroke timing from 1:04 to 1:02.

Stjepanovic is the most high-profile swimmer to feature in the championship.

The 18-year-old recorded the 10th best timing of  1:52.09 in the 200 metre butterfly at the European shortcourse championships in Poland in December.

"I have 5B Olympic qualifying times. I'm less than half a second away from getting my A time in 200 fly. I'm not lookin at this meet to try and get that. The test event in London in March is the competition I will be focussing on most to try and get that," said the teenager who is oozing with confidence of qualifying to the Olympics.

"I'm first Serbian to do a decent 200 fly. No one has really taken the next step. In December at the European shortcourse championship, I came fifth overall in the 200 fly. I really want to try and make final at the olympics," said Stjepanovic who attributes his success to coach Chris Tidey.

"I started swimming at age six and with Chris since 12 years. That's when I started to prgress like I really have. I used to do loads of other sports like football, tennis and played the piano. Now it's just purely swimming. It is pretty much my life and I love it. Swimming is the best sport there is," said who is in his gap year after attending Jumeirah College in Dubai and is waiting to enter University.

Asked for his impression on the complex, Stjepanovic said: "I have swum a couple of times in competition and training. It is a fantastic pool, a fast pool. I have swum pretty fast in this pool. I always enjoy coming here because it's a great facility and it does promote the sport in every way."

"It's good that it is being used more and more now," said Tidey who has
1,500 children in learn to swim programmes in 18 different locations while out of which 100 will be competing in this championship.

Stjepanovic just returned from Luzembourg where Tidey made them travel 24 hours before the competiton to make them "as tough as possible and to prepare themselves to race mentally." 

Asked for his impressions on UAE swimmer Ahmed, Tidey said: "It is more important Mubarak is listed as a hopeful for swimming in UAE not just for the Olympics. Mubarak is doing extremely well and Jay's inspired him and worked very well with him. Their partnership doing very well."
US-based Fisher is the third best 100 backstroke swimmer in Germany.

"I'm just seeing it as a step from now till May and see where I'm at, to see what my times are right now and see what I have to do after. Like what work I have to do and what I have to focus on in practice," said Fisher, 23, whose best timing is 1:03.

Jordan's best swimmer Anab is also seeking to book his flight London by qualifying in the 50 metre freestyle and 100 metre butterfly events.

"This is my last chance. I'm determined and hoping for the best," said the 25-year-old who has been swimming for the past 12 years.

His national team mate 16-year-old Talita Bishara Baqlah will be taking for the second time in Dubai.

"It's very good. It's looks like Olympics," said Talita about the complex.