x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Top swimmers to have a splash in Dubai's debut

Spread across five days, Dubai will witness 40 events at the 10th Fina World Championships with huge crowds expected.

Many of the fastest swimmers in the world will be competing when Dubai’s new complex opens its doors for the first time today.
Many of the fastest swimmers in the world will be competing when Dubai’s new complex opens its doors for the first time today.

After being hounded for much of the past 18 months by critics and naysayers, Dubai today proves once more that it simply does not do low-key openings.

When the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates opened for the first time, it was to host the European Tour's season-ending Dubai World Championship.

When the Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium first opened, it was to hold a one-day international between Australia and Pakistan.

Today, when the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex officially opens its doors, it will be to get the 10th Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) under way.

Having secured the right to host the "Short Course Worlds" in 2006, the emirate completed its newest sports venue last month and expects to welcome more than 1,500 swimmers and officials from 140 countries - from the Bahamas to Angola - for the biennial championships.

This will be the 10th time the showpiece has been held since the first event in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in 1993.

"After years of planning and preparation, it is such a thrill to finally welcome all the swimmers from over 140 countries to Dubai and to see them here on the pool deck and training here," said Obaid al Shamsi, the director of the championships.

Spread across five days, Dubai will witness 40 events, including 50-metre, 100m and 200m individual medley races as well as the four standard strokes - freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

Freestyle will also feature a 400m and a 1,500m race, while 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400m relay races will also take place.

The 4x100m relay, in particular, will stimulate the interest of many as the UAE team - Obaid al Jasmi and three of his brothers, Saeed, Bakhit and Faisal - aim to enter the Guinness World Records by becoming the first quartet of siblings to compete in a world championships.

The format of each day sees proceedings begin with a set of heats in each event lasting from 10am until 1pm.

The evening session will be reserved for semi-finals and finals, starting at 7pm.

Today will be marked by the official opening ceremony, which is expected to be attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and his son Sheikh Hamdan, who lends the venue his name.

The Royal Family will witness the world's best swimmers, including world record holders Federica Pellegrini and Brenton Rickard, as well as young talents such as Chad Le Clos of South Africa and the Dutch duo Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Inge Dekker.

Le Clos won gold at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, while the Dutch female swim team - which included both Kromowidjojo and Dekker - won eight gold medals at the European Short Course Championships in Holland last month.

"It is wonderful news that the Dutch athletes who were so successful in the European Short Course Championships are in Dubai," al Shamsi said.

"They are coming with big reputations thanks to their success in Eindhoven and seeing whether they can maintain their dominant form against the best in the world will be a great spectacle for the public of this country and also the millions of television viewers all around the world."

According to the event's official website, organisers are hoping to welcome more than 30,000 spectators during the five days, which would give the 400 local volunteers plenty to keep them busy. If such a strong turnout occurs today, the pattern of Dubai opening venues with high-profile global showpieces is sure to continue.

BIG NAMES TO WATCH FOR

Chad Le Clos
The South African is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion and world record holder in 200m butterfly. The 18 -year-old, prior to his domination in New Delhi, also claimed five gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Geoff Huegill
The three-time Short Course Worlds champion retired following the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and his weight ballooned. However, the Australian claimed in November 2008 that he had lost 40kg and secured two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games.

Ryan Lochte
The American is a three-time Olympic gold medallist specialising in backstroke and individual medley. The 26-year-old was part of Team USA that, along with Michael Phelps, won the 4x200m freestyle at the Beijing Olympics.

Federica Pellegrini
The 22-year-old Italian became the first woman to break the four-minute barrier in 400m freestyle when she clocked 3mins 59.15secs  at the Long Course World Championships in Rome last year. She holds the 200m freestyle record and won the event in Beijing in 2008.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae