Velimir Stjepanovic, Dubai's Olympic swimming hopeful, returned today from the World Championships in Shanghai with a clear plan for next year's London Games.
The 17-year-old Serbian is now going to focus on the 200 metre butterfly and 400 metre freestyle after two encouraging performances in the qualifying heats at the Oriental Sports Centre against the best in his sport.
He just missed out on a semi-final place for the 200m butterfly by 0.3 seconds with a time of 1.57.40, which was just 0.8 seconds behind the great American Michael Phelps, who went on to win the event.
And his 400m freestyle display, Stjepanovic's first race of the championships, has made him believe these are the two races he will concentrate on for next summer's Games.
"The 200m fly went an awful lot better than I thought it was going to and I took two seconds off my personal best," he said. "I was just 0.6 seconds off the Olympic A qualifying time and that really gives me something to aim for."
He also broke his own Serbian national record and came in 19th in qualifying.
"I missed out on a semi-final this time by a fraction," he said. "It was good to get so close to Phelps, although it must be said that he went well over three seconds quicker in the final, which shows you how far ahead of the rest he is.
"I wasn't expecting too much from the 400m free because I missed out on that at the European Championships so to get a time of 3.54, which is a second off my PB, was better than I hoped.
"So these are the two events I will focus on for the Olympics. I'm also aiming for the 100m free as well and that will come with normal training."
His coach Chris Tidey, of Dubai's Hamilton Aquatics club, believes Stjepanovic benefited massively from just being in Shanghai to watch the world's best swimmers in front of capacity crowds.
The teenager will now take a two-week break before he and fellow Serb Stefan Sorak begin their training in the UAE for the year ahead.
"Just walking through the sliding doors and seeing 18,000 people inside the arena for the finals was amazing for me," Tidey said. "Velimir had 7,000 watching him in his heat and I'm sure he now has a taste for that sort of atmosphere. He won't be scared of it from now on.
"It was very different to anything he has done before. It was a fantastic experience and his performance in the 200m butterfly was just awesome. All in all I was really pleased."
Stjepanovic revealed his biggest thrill was seeing Sun Yang, the local hero, break the 1,500 metres freestyle world record, held by Australia's Grant Hackett since 2001.
"Just to see that swim, when he was miles ahead of everyone else, was something special," he said. "It was a real privilege to be there for a bit of swimming history."
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