x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai club pooling world's young but strong Olympic swimming hopes

Members of the Hamilton Aquatics may come from all over the world, but, they tell Neil Cameron, they all share Olympic dream.

Some children join Dubai's Hamilton Aquatics swimming club to overcome their fear of water. Others join because they are terrified of missing out on an Olympic gold medal.

And you would make a mistake by thinking the second lot were a group of precocious youngsters living in a dream world. They are, in fact, quite serious.

Take Molly Gowans, an 11-year-old English expatriate who will travel to Sheffield, England, this month to swim in the National Age Group Championships.

"From my swimming, I just want to get lots of gold medals at the Olympics," she said.

"Not just one ... loads," said a smiling Chris Tidey, her coach and also the owner of the club.

Then there is Joshua Laisequilla, who represents Mexico. He wants to emulate fellow club member Velimir Stjepanovic, who yesterday travelled to the World Championships in China, fresh from winning two golds at the Junior European Championships.

"Velimir is someone we all look up to. He has given us hope that, with the training we get at the club, we can get to be the best," Laisequilla said.

"The coaches are great. They really push us every day and get everything out of us when it comes to a competition. Thanks to them, we always do our best."

The result is an unbridled confidence in each youngster.

"How confident am I that I can make it as a swimmer? Well, I have been confident for 12 years, so that's pretty confident." Laisequilla said.

It should be noted that he is 12 years old

And Jakub Karl, 11, who represents the Czech Republic, said: "My ultimate dream is to break some world records. I think that would be the same as all the other guys here. I would love to beat Velimir one day. Why not?

"All the swimmers at the club, and the coaches, are great motivators. Because everyone is so good, that pushes you on to become even faster because you don't want to lose to a teammate."

All three are going to the UK this month to compete for different nationalities; however, they all live in Dubai and are products of the UAE and Hamilton Aquatics, which only came into being four years ago.

"We have 300 squad swimmers and 1,500 kids who are here to learn how to swim," said Tidey who has accompanied Stjepanovic to China where he will compete for Serbia. "We had 16 when we started out.

"We do have an incredibly strong stable of swimmers. The work all the coaches have put in has not only given us some strong swimmers now, but it has given us a foundation to work on for the future."

Ashley Morris, the head coach at the club, predicts that over the next 10 years there will be any number of Olympic swimmers who have come through the ranks.

"There are a lot of good kids here, many of them winning medals at their own nationals. I think in three or four years, if the kids we have now can carry on from the level we are at, and we can guide them, then hopefully we can have a lot more competing in senior national teams," he said.

"The big clubs in the UK produce around 10 to 12 national qualifiers every year. Last year we had 16. We produce more than these clubs that are situated in massive cities with the huge catchment areas."

As Morris put some of the better swimmers through their paces at Wellington School's pool, it was clear that he does not let them rest on their laurels. Not that he needs to regularly raise his voice.

"I don't know if you noticed but when I said to the kids to be quiet, they just know to stop talking," he said. "I think the reason we have been quite successful is that we don't have to tell them stuff over and over. We expect them to know how to behave and to train eight times a week.

"We don't ask them to come. It's an expectation on our part and they always turn up."

Building character, as well as any ability to power through water, is something that runs strongly in this organisation.

"We could talk about the national champions, finalists and international swimmers, but another side to Hamilton is what we instil into the children," Tidey said.

"Go and talk to any of these guys and you'll realise they are not like any other kids. You won't just get one word answers from them. They are far from average people.

"A good example is actually Velimir. When we were in Belgrade for the European Juniors, a coach from the GB Team tripped going out of the lift and the other Serbian kids started laughing.

"Velimir was the only one who helped the guy and picked up his stuff and ask if he was OK. He then told the others to be quiet.

"We regularly go to an event in Norwich in England with around 30 swimmers and every year the promoter comes to us to say thank you for their conduct. We see them as model athletes. Not as kids."

So what of the future? Ask the coaches at this swimming club and they are confident this is the start of something special.

"There are enough talented kids here in the UAE and, with the right support and funding, in 10 years we could be a conveyer belt like they have in the United States," Tidey said.

The successes of Chris Tidey and his coaching staff are global

Jakub Karl
Czech Republic National Age Group Championships

On June 18-19, Jakub Karl won a silver medal in the 200 metre freestyle and bronze medal in the 100m butterfly in the 11-year-old age group at the Czech Republic National Age Group Championships.


Krista Ceplite
Latvian Open Senior National Championships

At just 12 years old, Krista Ceplite managed to come away with a gold medal in the 800m freestyle, a gold in the 400m freestyle and silver medal in the 200m freestyle at the Latvian Senior Nationals. She was racing against senior swimmers and standing on the podium with 16-21 year olds.

Lianna Swan
Pakistan Senior National Championships

Lianna Swan competed in her first National Championships of Pakistan and won four gold medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke and a relay with her Pakistan club. Lianna is 14 years old and was competing against swimmers much older than her.

Anouque Berghuis
Dutch National Open Championships

Berghuis travelled to Holland to compete in the Dutch National Open Championships last month. She competed against swimmers who are competing in Shanghai for the World Championships this month and her best swim was in the 800m freestyle where, at 15 years old, she made the senior final with a 22 second personal best.

ncameron@thenational.ae


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