x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Serbian teen back in at deep end in Dubai swim gala

A day after the Short Course Worlds, the Serbian Stjepanovic is in the pool at GEMS World Academy.

Stjepanovic had just competed in six events over five days.
Stjepanovic had just competed in six events over five days.

DUBAI // As Ryan Lochte and Cesar Cielo relaxed into their first-class seats bound for lands far away, they could have spared a thought for young Velimir Stjepanovic.

The Dubai-based 17-year-old, rather than being rewarded with a break for his performances at last week's Fina Short Course World Championships where he represented Serbia, was instead back in the pool yesterday competing at the Hamilton Swim Gala at GEMS World Academy.

Stjepanovic had competed in six events over five days at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex in Dubai, impressing in the 50-metre and 100m freestyle where he finished among the top 30 per cent of the 120-plus swimmers who entered both races.

But yesterday he was competing in three more races and will take part in another three today.

"I'm feeling OK, but I'm sure I'll feel a little tired by tomorrow," he said, shortly before powering to victories in the 50m and 100m free as well as the 100m butterfly.

"The World Championships was a brilliant event and I was up against some really powerful competition. It was a huge learning experience for me and it really showed how much of a gap there is between the juniors and the seniors."

Stjepanovic finished only 1.94secs behind Brazil's Cielo in the heats for the 50m free, but he is under no illusions that he must continue his intense training.

"I spoke to lots of coaches and many of the people I met at the Youth Olympics," said Stjepanovic, who won one silver and one bronze at this year's inaugural Games in Singapore. "I'm happy with my performances, but I know that I have to continue to work very hard in the future."

Andrew Chetcuti is another UAE-based swimmer to enjoy the honour of representing his country at Dubai's first Short Course Worlds. The 18-year-old, who trains with Libra Elite Swimming Club, was born in Malta and competed in six events last week, breaking several of his country's national records.

In the men's 100m free, Chetcuti lowered his own mark by 1.05secs before, together with Maltese teammates Mark Sammut and Andrea and Neil Agius, smashing their 4x100 medley record by a massive 18.8secs.

Lochte, who won six gold medals in Dubai, was named best male of the championships while Spain's Mireia Belmonte Garcia was the best female athlete with three golds and one silver.

In all, 61 championship records were broken during the five-day meet as well as four world records, two by Lochte in the 200m and 400m individual medley, one by China's women's 4x200m freestyle relay team and the fourth by Russia's men's 4x200m freestyle relay team.