x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hard work in the UAE pays off for Maltese swimmer

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Andrew Chetcuti had the desire to be an Olympic swimmer for Malta since he was in year 6 of school.
Andrew Chetcuti had the desire to be an Olympic swimmer for Malta since he was in year 6 of school.

A former Dubai College head boy has achieved his ambition of competing in the Olympics.

Andrew Chetcuti, who has lived in the UAE since the age of two, will represent his native Malta at the London Olympics.

The 19 year old reached his goal at the Small States of Europe Swimming Championship in Andorra last week where he broke two more Maltese records while winning a gold and a silver medal.

Chetcuti, who will return to Malta today after a five-week training camp in South Africa, was left stunned by his Olympic ticket.

"When I first found out in Andorra, I was completely shocked and it took a while for the news to sink in," he said. "I am of course quite nervous but I am getting as ready as I possibly can to make myself, my family, my coach and my country proud at the games!"

In Andorra, Chetcuti claimed the gold medal in the 50m freestyle in 23.60 seconds and the silver medal in the 100m freestyle (51.85).

His time in the 50m free was a personal best and Maltese national record. And although he was edged out by Iceland's Orri Freyer Gudmundsson (51.57) for the gold in the 100m free, Chetcuti's time was good for another personal best and a Maltese record.

Chetcuti now holds seven national records: the 50m free, 100m free, 200m free (1:38.83), 200m medley relay, 200m free relay, 400m free relay and 400m medley relay.

"Getting my spot on the Olympic team for Malta took a long season of hard work," Chetcuti said.

His time swimming in the UAE was varied. He swam for five clubs but says it was his experience with his coach Grant Kritzinger which benefited him most.

"Without his advice and coaching I would not be where I am today," he said.

"Additionally, I was briefly affiliated with Al Wasl Club and I am ever grateful for their continuing support with my training, as they always allow me to train at their pool without any hassle."

Chetcuti left Dubai in August to begin his studies at Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) in the US where he is studying biomedical engineering and aims to continue his education at medical school.

He is also continuing his training there after receiving a part swimming scholarship to attend the university.

As part of the GT swim team he has taken part in US Nationals and ACC Championships. He has also travelled to Europe throughout the year to represent Malta.

Chetcuti started swimming lessons at four and competing seriously when he was 10.

He will take part in the Maltese Nationals and then travel to London on July 22 with the Olympic team. He will be competing in the 100 freestyle on July 31.

"I don't think I'll really face any of the big guys at this Olympics as my goal for making the semis and finals has always been for 2016," he said when asked about who he was excited about facing in London.

"However, if I do happen to make semis, meeting guys like James Magnussen and Cesar Cielo would be awesome!"

As well as qualifying for the Games, Chetcuti is enjoying his new life in America.

"I have loved every minute of being at GT this past year and can't wait to go back as I'm actually missing all my buddies and teammates back at Georgia Tech quite a bit!"

"The training in South Africa so far has been brutal, and being at 5200 feet altitude hasn't made it any easier. Of course I will spend some time here sightseeing. However, I am primarily here to train and get prepped for the Olympic Games."

Chetcuti said his parents - Cliff and Natalie - were the driving force behind his success.

"There are literally too many names to mention," he said.

"First and foremost I have to say my parents. Without their support, not just financially, I would not even be half of the swimmer I am today.

"From driving me to training every morning [while I was living in Dubai], giving me words of support when I wasn't swimming as well I should have been, the list goes on and on for which I am forever grateful for everything they have done for me.

"My younger brother, Matthew, has also been very supportive and I would like to think he is proud of my achievements, just as I am proud about his."

His mother was in Malta with her parents when she first heard the news her son would be representing their country.

"I was in floods of tears," she said. "I was beyond happy for him, proud, excited all rolled into one.

"I wish my husband, my younger son Matt and me could have been with him when he was told in Andorra."

Natalie cannot put a specific time or how old her son was when they realised he had the potential to make it to the Olympics.

"For his Year 6 leavers' assembly at Jebel Ali Primary School the students put on a short play showing what and where they were likely to be in the future. Andrew's part was to be a Maltese Olympic swimmer.

"We honestly feel blessed. Both our sons are focused and once they set goals for themselves they find out what has to be done to achieve them and basically do what it takes.

"What impresses me about Andrew is how he never complained about his schedule - the early 4.30am wake ups, hours of training or studying and missing out on parties because he was stretched for time."

apassela@thenational.ae

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