x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Stjepanovic's stomach issue cures bad back for Olympics

The Abu Dhabi-born swimmer believes injury helped due to time off due to illness.

Velimir Stjepanovic will swim at the Olympic Games in London.
Velimir Stjepanovic will swim at the Olympic Games in London.

DUBAI // Velimir Stjepanovic, the UAE-based swimmer, is hoping a recent stomach ailment will prove to be a veiled blessing, as he begins his final preparations for this summer's London Olympics.

The Abu Dhabi-born swimmer is preparing to travel to the European Aquatics Championships in Debrecen, Hungary in two weeks' time, safe in the knowledge his place at the Games is already assured.

However, his forensically detailed training regime in the lead up to the Games had been disrupted for eight days after he was struck by gastritis, a condition which effects the lining of the stomach.

Stjepanovic, who competes for Serbia despite having lived all his life in the UAE, lost 3kgs and was on antibiotics for a condition which doctors initially struggled to diagnose.

The unscheduled break brought with it some positives, though, as a long-standing back complaint with which he had been suffering cleared up in the time spent away from the pool.

"It was unfortunate, but it happens," Stjepanovic, 18, said.

"I'm lucky it happened 18 weeks before [the Games]. It could have happened three weeks before.

"Overall I think it was good I got a break. I have to look at the positive side. Before this, I had bad back problems because of all the flying and the metreage we have been doing.

"The week off has helped my back a lot.

"The pain has pretty much completely gone. It is not affecting my swimming any more."

Stjepanovic's illness means Chris Tidey, his coach at the Hamilton Aquatics academy in Dubai, has had to modify the plan he had for him in the lead up to the trip to Hungary.

"I think the enforced break has worked for him," said Tidey, who has overseen his rise from a 12 year old who was not even the fastest swimmer in his age-group in Dubai to performing on the world stage. "Things happen for a reason sometimes."

Stjepanovic has seen the world's fastest time of the year he set in qualifying for the 200-metre butterfly event at the Olympics back in March gradually overtaken by other swimmers since.

However, his effort at the British Gas Swimming Championships still marked him out as one to watch this summer.

His new personal best of one minute, 56.18 seconds was more than half a second inside the Olympic qualification standard.

It was also over two seconds faster than that of Wu Peng, the Chinese swimmer who has long been regarded as a gold medal contender for the Games.

The Dubai swimmer refuses to be drawn on what targets he has set himself for this summer's main event, however.

"I don't really know yet," he said. "It will be more of a case of assessing when I get there.

"Chris and I discuss it, but we won't tell anybody what we have discussed. I can deal with pressure, but I don't need the extra pressure."

pradley@thenational.ae

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