For these Dubai-based swimmers, the world championships is not enough

Hamilton Aquatics teammates Velimir Stjepanovic and Ivan Lendjer from Serbia, as well as Mohammed Madouh of Kuwait, call the Emirates home and will be the focus of local interest at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships, writes Ali Khaled.
Serbia's Ivan Lendjer, second from the right, trains in Dubai with Hamilton Aquatics and will compete at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships, which starts Friday in Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Serbia's Ivan Lendjer, second from the right, trains in Dubai with Hamilton Aquatics and will compete at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships, which starts Friday in Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

When the 2015 World Aquatics Championships begin in Kazan, Russia, on Friday, three Dubai-based competitors will be aiming for honours, but it will not be under the UAE flag.

Hamilton Aquatics teammates Velimir Stjepanovic and Ivan Lendjer from Serbia, as well as Mohammed Madouh of Kuwait, now call the Emirates home and will be the focus of local interest in the two-week competition.

For one, the ties with the UAE are particularly strong. Stjepanovic, 21, was born in Abu Dhabi and has lived almost all of his young life in Dubai.

“I started swimming when I was three, but I started competitively when I joined up with my coach Chris Tidey at the age of 12,” he said.

“I have been under Chris’s supervision for almost 10 years now and have improved every year to the point where last year I became double European champion in the 400-metre and 200m freestyle.”

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The second of those two medals, which Stjepanovic calls “the highlight of his career”, was achieved by a margin of two tenths of a second ahead of German champion and world record-holder Paul Biedermann.

The final stages of Stjepanovic’s preparation for Kazan has taken place in his native Serbia. He will compete in three events in Russia: the 200m and 400m freestyle and the 200m butterfly.

“Training has been going well. The times I’m doing in training are better than last year,” he said. “It’s only the first week of taper, so it’s hard to gauge. However, I’m feeling confident that I can do well.”

Stjepanovic says joining Hamilton Aquatics has helped him and others progress to compete on an international stage, but he believes swimming has a long way to go yet before it can be considered a top sport in the UAE.

“The standards and level are definitely on the rise, as Hamilton is producing very high quality swimmers,” he said. “However, I haven’t seen as much improvement in the local scene, which is a shame when the facilities that are on offer in Dubai are top class.”

One venue in particular has had swimmers from around the globe raving about it but remains largely underused outside international competition.

“For me, the Hamdan Complex is the best pool in the world,” Stjepanovic said. “Dubai really has great facilities for swimming, considering most schools, if not all, have swimming pools that are up to a good standard for training.”

Madouh also credits the Emirates’ facilities for overall improvement in UAE swimming standards.

“I consider Hamdan Sports Complex an iconic facility. It’s definitely one of the best swimming facilities I have encountered during my career,” the 28-year-old Kuwaiti said.

“Being an experienced GCC swimmer for 15 years, the UAE Swimming Federation has raised their standards and produced quality swimmers over the past years and they have been competing with good results.”

Though he has already represented Kuwait at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Madouh has streamlined his performances since moving to the UAE two years ago to take up graduate studies at Zayed University.

“Being part of Hamilton Aquatics raised my personal standards as a competitive swimmer and made me devoted more than ever to the sport,” said Madouh, who will take part in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

“Additionally, it has made me understand swimming more, with clear depth on the technical side.”

For Madouh, a Muslim, the rigours of training have been even harder than usual in the build-up to Kazan.

“Combining Ramadan and swimming has been a bit tricky,” he said. “But I managed to have a very flexible training schedule thanks to Hamilton Aquatics.”

There are no such issues for the Lendjer, 25, who splits his time between competing and teaching at Hamilton Aquatics. He is going for gold in the 50m and 100m butterfly, as well as the 100m freestyle.

“I have been working hard. I improved in all segments in training in pool and in gym as well,” said Lendjer, who moved to Dubai 10 months ago.

“I’ve been training in much better conditions than I had in Serbia, and I have an opportunity to swim and work at the same time.

“The facilities in Dubai are much better than I had back home. Hamdan Complex is, in my opinion, one of the best swimming pools in the world.”

Lendjer’s CV is an impressive one. He graduated with a degree in sport and tourism at Novi Sad, Serbia. By the age of nine he had already taken part in local competitions and competed at the 2005 European Youth Olympic Festival in Lignano, Italy, at international level.

The high point of his career came a year later when he won 100m butterfly gold at the Junior World Cup in Brazil. A repeat at senior level is a tough task, but Lendjer already has targets in mind for Kazan and beyond.

“It’s always about time goals. I would be really happy to swim my personal best times,” he said. “Next year is very important. There is the European long course in London and Rio Olympic Games.”

Madouh has similar ambitions in Kazan.

“My expectations are to perform at my peak, achieve personal best times and attempt to break the Kuwait record in the 50m freestyle. After that, keep on training and qualify for 2016 Olympics” he said.

Big things are expected of Stjepanovic, but he remains very cautious.

“I like to take it one step at a time,” he said. “It will be very hard to even make the finals, so my goal is to first make finals and then think about the next part, as anything can happen in a final.”

As with Madouh and Ledjer, Kazan is just a stop – albeit a major one – on the road to the ultimate destination for Stjepanovic.

“The Worlds is another stepping stone for the main event – the Olympics in Rio next year,” he said.

“I’ve qualified for it already. Now it will be all about preparing and training for it as it will be the toughest competition. I hope to win a medal at those Olympics in the 200 and 400 free.”

akhaled@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at NatSportUAE

Published: July 23, 2015 04:00 AM

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