It was the definition of a shaky start: as Obaid al Jesmi, the two-time Emirati Olympian, was dining on Sunday evening, only 24 hours after landing in Toyko for a swimming championship, the room started to rock. "I felt something like a machine vibrating so I ignored it," he said from Tokyo. "Then I saw people looking at each other, and then I looked up and saw the lights shaking, and people were screaming 'earthquake!'"
The event measured about seven in magnitude on the Richter scale. The swimmer was speaking to his parents at the time, but did not want to worry them. He still has not told them about the experience. "The funny thing was, the Iranian swimmers were shouting 'earthquake, earthquake', and all the swimmers were running out of the restaurant, and I was still sitting there looking around trying to work out what all the fuss was about," he said.
"I was the only one sitting in the restaurant, and everything was shaking and everyone was running out. I wasn't really worried or afraid because it wasn't really that bad - just like a big machine shaking the building." He already had competed in the first of numerous races at the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swim Centre as part of the sixth Asian Age Group Swimming Championships. The UAE swimming team's head coach, Paul Van Lieshout, was staying at the nearby Shinagawa Prince Hotel.
"At first it was a slight shaking and then about 15 seconds of harder shaking," Mr Lieshout said from Tokyo. "It was sort of being on a really slow roller-coaster. "When you're on the 14th floor, there isn't much you can do anyway. The buildings are designed for this." Accustomed to seismic activity, the Japanese allowed the swimming meet ing to progress as planned after the quake. Local people went about their business "as though nothing had happened", Mr Van Lieshout said.
Al Jesmi, an Athens and Beijing Olympian, said before leaving for Tokyo that he hoped to break more records during the Asian competition. He has been competing for the country for 20 years and is the country's top swimmer. The hopes of the Emirates winning medals at the championships lie with Al Jesmi, who is the only one representing the country at this competition. Five of his teammates, who were registered to compete, stayed home because of personal and education commitments.
During the world championships in Rome last month, al Jesmi broke two national records and tied one. However, in Japan on Sunday before the quake struck, he finished ninth out of 10 swimmers in a heat for the 100-metre butterfly. Al Jesmi - who had been sure he would make the final - blamed it on the jet lag and arriving just a day before the event. He hopes for a better result in eight races today; the 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley and 50m butterfly. He will also take part in the 50m and 100m freestyle and 50m and 100m backstroke.