x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Junior swimming championships launchpad to much better things

Fina endorses Hamdan bin Mohammed Sports Complex and world record-breaker Meilutyte calls Dubai venue 'one of the best I have ever seen'. Ahmed Rizvi reports.

The World Junior Swimming Championships.
The World Junior Swimming Championships.

DUBAI // The international swimming federation, Fina, has backed Dubai's credentials to host even bigger events down the road after a successful World Junior Swimming Championships at the Hamdan bin Mohammed Sports Complex.

The championships – the biggest sporting event in the country yet with 91 nations participating – came to an end on Saturday with 47 championship records rewritten across the six days.

Competitions were held in 42 events, with 753 swimming stars of the future – and a reigning Olympic and world champion in Ruta Meilutyte – taking the pool, and each one of them returned home with memories of the Hamdan bin Mohammed Sports Complex and the city.

"This is a fantastic complex, one of the best I have ever seen," said Meilutyte, who visited the Dubai Mall on Friday night along with other swimmers. "That was the first time I left the hotel. It was pretty stunning."

"It was great fun," said Andrew Seliskar of the US, winner of the boys 200m butterfly on the final day. "I really enjoyed swimming here. It's a great venue."

"The city is very beautiful and the swimming pool is very, very beautiful," said Italy's Luca Mencarini, the 200m backstroke champion.

While the teenage participants returned home impressed, officials of Fina, who started their partnership with Dubai and the sports complex in 2010 with the World Swimming Championships in 2010, never had any doubts.

"We have been having events in Dubai for some years now and from my experience, I have no doubt Dubai is ready to host any type of competition, even the Olympic Games," said Cornel Marculescu, Fina's executive director.

"Dubai and the UAE are great partners of Fina. Every time we come here with any discipline - swimming, diving and probably soon with water polo - we have a great event and enjoy so much. The venues are fantastic, the city is very attractive for the athletes and they are very happy to be here. The parents were also here this time and they liked it as well.

"The Hamdan Sports Complex is a fantastic aquatics centre, probably one of the best venues existing today in the world, and the athletes enjoy coming here very much."

The Dubai event was the biggest of the four World Junior Championships held until now, both in terms of participation and medals on offer.

The US topped the charts for the third successive time, with 28 – nine gold, seven silver and 12 bronze – but Marculescu was pleased to see more countries feature on the medals table than ever before.

Russia, who did not win a single gold in 2011, had nine winners this time and countries like Hong Kong and Trinidad and Tobago made their first appearance on the medals table.

"These championships are a big progress for us – not just in the number of participating countries, but also on the level of performances," said Marculescu. "The most important thing for me is that not just a limited number of countries have taken medals. You can see various countries on the medals table. This is the most important thing.

"When you look at the relays, you see relay teams from Russia and they never, ever took part in a relay because of their inability to bring so many swimmers."

However, not many fans were there at the venue to watch future Olympic and world champions make their first splash. Marculescu believes the timing of the event was a probable cause.

"After Ramadan, you have a lot of people going for holiday," he said. "So that is an issue. This probably was not the best period. But these juniors need to go to school and the majority of schools start in September.

"For that reason, we decided to hold this in the last week of August."

And Marculescu promised Dubai will continue to host top Fina events like the swimming and diving World Cup series long into the future.

The next Fina event – the World Cup – is scheduled for October, but before that, the pools at the Hamdan Sports Complex will be covered as the venue hosts the 24-team Asian Volleyball Championships starting September 28.

"At the Dubai Sports Council, our vision is to host such major events, be it swimming or any other sport," said Ali Al Mutawwa, Dubai Sports Council's director of finance.

"So we are confident fans from across the country will come to watch the event and support their teams."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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