DUBAI // Another international collection of people who go fast in water has converged on Dubai's swimming jewel in the desert, only this event counts as a welcome oddball.
Rather than a one-week crescendo such as an Olympics or the Short Course Swimming World Championships of last December at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, the Swimming World Cup serves as brisk lidlifter for a seven-part series.
It will churn for tomorrow and Saturday beside the Dubai Bypass, then move on to the other six stops in the World Cup format - Stockholm, Moscow, Berlin, Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo - meaning the contestants for overall honours must swim well and fly well.
"Some swimmers don't like it because of the travel," said Chad Le Clos, the 19-year-old South African who won gold at the Hamdan Complex last December. "That's what makes it harder for older guys that have been travelling for 10 years. But I'm young and I'm still enthusiastic about travelling. It's nice to jump around and see different places."
They will see them in a whir, with the closing Tokyo stop starting up just five weeks from tomorrow. To begin, the Dubai event figures to attract some 170 swimmers from 29 nationalities, with the field elite-level and inclusive of some champions from the last major Dubai event. They include the Dutch three-time gold medallist Ranomi Kromowidjojo and the Russian double-gold medallist Evgeny Korotyshkin.
The event will also feature UAE's side as it keeps a long lens aimed toward the pan-Arab Games in Doha in December, its primary focus according to national coach Jay Benner.
With this event, Benner said, "You try to make a pretty educated assessment how tired guys are from what we've been doing the last six weeks, maybe make some adjustments going into the Gulf Games [in Bahrain]."
That, while studying the exemplars nearby: "It's very important to make your swimmers aware of where the bar is set" for elite requirements, he said.
The UAE's most hopeful swimmer, the 21-year-old Mubarak Mohammed Salem, said through an interpreter he hopes to develop himself against stronger swimmers and stockpile experience for future competitions.
Participants and coaches see other benefits, such as money.
As Le Clos pointed out, swimmers from countries such as Australia or the United States have renowned, formidable financial backing, but for other nationalities, he said, "It's great for us to come here and race" with some money on the line.
As organisers reported, the Dubai stop pays each race winner US $1,500 (Dh 5,509), with $1,000 for second place and $500 for third and $10,000 for any world record.
The overall prize money for the series reaches the formidable range for many of the world's swimmers: $100,000, $50,000 and $30,000 for the top three places.
Benner shepherded some American teams to past World Cups, and one of his swimmers kept snaring the extra prize in Berlin. "Every year," Benner said of Ed Moses, "Ed would win the Volkswagen."
Further, the World Cup presents a different and welcome tone.
In a sport unforgiving in its capacity to quash years of work in one day's off day, this event grants reprieve.
"If you're swimming badly, have a hard meet in Dubai, it gives you a second chance five days later [in Stockholm]. Sometimes it's nice to have a fresh start," said Le Clos.
Benner said: "It's a great competition without a lot of pressure for these athletes.
"It's a fun competition, just a two-day competition. Athletes are coming to compete and race fast ... but you get out of the pool after maybe a subpar race and it's not the devastation you would have maybe with the Olympics."
And in the cases of Ian Thorpe gracing the Singapore stop and Michael Phelps alighting in Moscow, Benner said, "They're using racing as part of training," seeking "a gauge as to where they're at".
That applies equally to the returning Thorpe, the still-kingly Phelps and the learning swimmers of the UAE.