ABU DHABI // Childhood sweethearts Velimir Stjepanovic and Megan Mileham swept the board at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Swimming Festival yesterday, the teenagers completing a double by winning both feature races.
Stjepanovic, 17, from Serbia, raced away from the large gathering of dawn visitors to the Corniche to capture the Waha Capital Mile in an impressive time of 17mins 56secs before going on to take the shorter Etihad Splash Dash three hours later.
Mileham, 18, followed suit in the women's races which began a few minutes later, the South African teenager completing the exhausting mile course in 21mins 37secs before roaring home from the chasing pack in the 700 metres Splash Dash.
The champions embraced each other after their respective victories which earned them prizes of Dh5,000 and a pair of business class tickets to any European destination.
"We used to go out together but now he's just my best friend and I am his," Mileham said.
Stjepanovic is regarded as a medal contender in the 100m freestyle and the 200m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics in London. He carried the Serbian flag at the opening ceremony for the Youth Olympics in Singapore in August and claimed a silver and bronze medal for his country.
Mileham, who is ranked third in her country, is also dreaming of an Olympic appearance but is focused on Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"I feel I need to be my country's No 1 first," she said. "I'll be 24 when those Olympics come round, so I've got plenty of time in hand."
The youngsters are members of the Hamilton Athletic Club in Dubai which has more than 1,000 swimmers registered at nine different locations in the emirate.
Chris Tidey, who coaches both champions, was on the public beach at the Corniche to greet his charges and praised them for their adaptability. "They are used to intensive training over shorter distances in the pool," he said.
"Today required a different technical approach and careful preparation which we went through before the races.
"The mile requires good skills at pace-setting while the dash was more about going flat out from start to finish. Velimir and Megan did it exactly as planned and we are delighted with their efforts."
Stjepanovic revealed the 700m dash was right on his threshold for sustaining his top speed. He said: "Any further than that and I would have had to ease off the pace, but I'm so glad I managed to keep it going at full speed from start to finish."
That full-throttle swim in a time of 10min 35secs gave Stjepanovic a comfortable winning margin of more than 10 seconds over Australia's Beau Cummins in the shorter race.
His lead in the mile race was a single second short of a minute over Coby Duncan, his Hamilton training partner.
Third in the men's mile was Cummins in a time of 19min 6secs, three seconds ahead of Saeed al Jasmi, the top Emirati swimmer who was pleased with his first attempt at competitive open-water swimming as part of his training regime for the forthcoming Fina world championships in Dubai. Stjepanovic and Duncan will again be among his opponents.
"My arms are hurting but I'm really glad I did this," al Jasmi, a sprint-race specialist, said. "It can't do any harm in terms of my fitness training."
Mileham's winning times might have been better but for hitting the "traffic" in the men's races ahead of her. The men started the mile race five minutes before the women but Mileham lost count of how many of them she caught up with and overtook.
More than 700 swimmers of all ages and abilities took part in the various races.
Waha Capital Mile (Men)
1st – Velimir Stjepanovic, Serbian, 17 years old, Hamilton Aquatics Dubai. 17mins 56secs.
2nd – Coby Duncan, Australian, 17, Hamilton Aquatics Dubai. 18mins 55secs.
3rd – Beau Cummins, Australian, 22, Dubai Masters Swimming Club. 19mins 6secs.
Waha Capital Mile (Women)
1st – Megan Mileham, 18, S African, Hamilton Aquatics Dubai. 21mins 37secs.
2nd – Naimh Carr, Russian, unattached 22mins 15secs.
3rd – Maria Moussfevaska, Bulgarian, 31, Dubai Masters Swimming Club. 22mins 19 secs.
Etihad Splash Dash (Women)
1st – Megan Mileham, 18, above, S African, Hamilton Aquatics Dubai. 12mins 36secs.
2nd – Maria Moussfevaska, Bulgarian, 31, Dubai Masters Swimming Club.
3rd – Karen Mayer, 28, Austrian, Dubai Masters Swimming Club.
Etihad Splash Dash (Men)
1st – Velimir Stjepanovic, Serbian, 17, Hamilton Aquatics Dubai. 10mins 35secs
2nd – Beau Cummins, Australian, 22, Dubai Masters Swimming Club.
3rd – Jean Burkes, Australian, 27, Libra Swimming Academy Dubai.
Note: only winners’ times taken for Splash Dash.