x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai's Stjepanovic on course for bigger things

Serbian national's win in 100m freestyle indicates he can medal at the World Championships and the Olympics, his coach says.

Fact that Velimir Stjepanovic broke 50-second barrier on Friday does not surprise his coach.
Fact that Velimir Stjepanovic broke 50-second barrier on Friday does not surprise his coach.

Velimir Stjepanovic, the Dubai swimmer, used every ounce of his energy to win a gold medal in the European Junior Championships in Belgrade, Serbia this weekend.

Stjepanovic competes for Serbia and said he was not prepared for the emotion he felt when standing on the podium in front of so many new-found supporters and listening to his national anthem being played.

Stjepanovic, 17, broke the 50-second barrier in the 100 metre freestyle final on Friday, winning with a time of 49.56, a personal best for the teenager who has lived in the UAE all his life and qualifies for Serbia through his parents.

It was a perfectly executed race by the former Jumeirah College high school pupil who had nothing left to give when he emerged from the water.

"I was so tired that I could hardly walk afterwards," he said. "I had to get a really long massage the next day because my muscles were so sore, but it was worth it.

"It was a perfect race for me. I don't think I could have given any more and that took a lot out of me. I messed up on the 400m freestyle semi-final the day before and that annoyed me so I was determined to get this right."

He said he pulled out of the 200m butterfly final to concentrate on the 100m freestyle.

He said he had a quick start and hit the turn on 23.8secs, which was his target.

"I was really pleased to get under 50 seconds and it was an incredible feeling to win gold," he said. "It was a lot better than I thought I would do.

"Because the event is in Serbia, I thought it would be emotional when I got on the podium but I couldn't have guessed what it was going to be like. I got the biggest cheer of the night and the crowd's reaction is something I will never forget."

Stjepanovic is in the Serbian capital with Chris Tidey, the coach of Dubai's Hamilton Aquatics club.

Tidey could not have been happier with his swimmer's performance. "Velimir might be surprised but I'm not," he said.

"His time is where I scheduled him to be when I looked ahead to these championships a year ago.

"What is important to note is that he is up against some serious swimmers. Despite this being juniors, the level is as good as most countries' national senior championships.

"If you look back to past winners here, they tend to go on and medal at the world championships and Olympic Games.

"It was a really proud moment for me to watch him go up there for his medal. It's the best achievement I have had as a coach, but all the glory belongs to Velimir. He has worked so, so hard to get to this standard."

Stjepanovic, who hopes to represent Serbia in next year's London Olympics, could take one more medal on Sunday night, in the 100m butterfly.

He returns to Dubai on Tuesday, but not for a rest. He said he will go right back into training for the Shanghai World Cup, which begins on July 20. "I will get 10 days off after I come back from China, however," he said. "It's a busy time for me right now."