The head coach of Velimir Stjepanovic says the Dubai’s swimmer’s target is making the 200m butterfly final at the London Olympics this summer.
The 18 year old followed up his personal best time in the heat to qualify for the Games by taking butterfly gold in the British Gas Swimming Nationals at the London Aquatics Centre.
The likes of Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos could provide the opposition in the summer, and Ashley Morris, the head coach of Hamilton Aquatics academy in Dubai, believes the Abu Dhabi-born freestyler could make the medal podium in London.
“He has the mental and physical ability to do it,” Morris said.
“His target is to make the final, but if you look at how far he has come, I wouldn’t write of his chances of taking home a medal.”
Stjepanovic failed to reach the final of the world championships in Shanghai last year but atoned for that disappointment by setting the fastest time in the world this year on Monday to guarantee his place in the Olympics.
Stjepanovic was more than half a second slower in the subsequent final, but he still managed to beat Austria’s Dinko Jukic by just under one tenth of a second to take gold.
However, Morris insists the qualifying time for the Games was all that mattered from the trip to London.
“The placings are insignificant,” Morris. “Of course, it is always nice to win, but the timing is the most important thing. To get that ‘A’ time [to qualify for the Olympics] was what the journey to this meet was all about.
“His swim in the heat has put him at the top of the world [time] rankings this year, which is great for an 18 year old, and he has showed he is way ahead of where he needs to be.”
Chris Tidey, Stjepanovic’s personal coach, Chris Tidey, expressed his satisfaction at the Serb’s improvement this year.
“I’m really pleased this the way he performed his fly at the early stages of preparation for the Olympics,” Tidey said from London.
“Now we do not need to chase that ‘A’ time, Velimir can prepare in full for the summer. This should mean 1:56.1 becomes faster when it matters at the Games.”
Two other Hamilton Aquatics swimmers are also in action in London.
Tiago Venancio, a Portuguese who moved to Dubai in September, clocked his fastest time in the 200m freestyle for five years and also beat his best in the 100m freestyle for two years. But he missed out on the ‘A’ times needed in the event.
“Tiago is working with some of the best coaches in the world and is improving all the time,” Morris said.
Stefan Sorak, the Serb, will be targeting the Games qualification time when he competes in the 1,500m freestyle on Saturday.
“Stefan is improving, too, all three are, and that’s what we want,” Morris said. “He will be targeting that ‘A’ time to hopefully make it to London.”