x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

UAE-based swimmer is aiming for automatic Olympic qualification

Serbian Velimir Stjepanovic is on form in London but has to surpass his record to get spot at the 2012 Games.

Velimir Stjepanovic, just 18 years of age, is one of the most promising swimmers in the world.
Velimir Stjepanovic, just 18 years of age, is one of the most promising swimmers in the world.

Velimir Stjepanovic, the Serbian swimmer who was born and raised in the UAE, will go in search of automatic qualification for the Olympic Games today, buoyed by an encouraging opening two days of competition at a test event in London.

The former Jumeirah College schoolboy is targeting the "A" standard qualifying time of one minute, 56.80 seconds in the heats, and then potentially tonight's final, of the 200 metres butterfly at the Olympic Park Aquatics Centre.

The Abu Dhabi-born swimmer has a personal best of 1:57.40 in the event, and has reason to be optimistic of lowering that, given his form since arrival in the UK.

On Saturday's opening night, he finished second in the 400m freestyle final for the fastest eight foreign qualifiers, behind Germany's Paul Biedermann, who was the world champion in the event in 2009.

Then in yesterday's 200m freestyle heats, he was the sixth fastest overseas competitor, 0.3 seconds behind Tiago Venancio, his stablemate at Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai.

Stjepanovic's times so far augur well for today's racing in his preferred event.

"Because of the nature of the competition, it is very difficult to qualify for the finals," Chris Tidey, their coach at Hamilton Aquatics, said in a telephone interview from London.

"Given that there are world champions and world record holders here, it is a really good way of benchmarking where they are at. The sole reason we are here is to get a time of 1:56.79 or faster [in the 200m butterfly] then we can say we are definitely going [to the Games]."

Venancio's time in yesterday's heat was his best for four years.

"He has a bounce back in his step now, and it has been building up all year," Tidey said of his Portuguese charge.

"He has his confidence back."

pradley@thenational.ae