x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE swimmer seeks outside help to boost Olympic chances

The swimming federation will not stand in the way of Obaid Al Jasmi if he wants to seek independent assistance in chasing a third appearance at the Games.

Obaid Alj Jasmi is making an argument that combining the efforts of the UAE Swimming Federation with Hamilton Aquatics would benefit all Emirati swimmers.
Obaid Alj Jasmi is making an argument that combining the efforts of the UAE Swimming Federation with Hamilton Aquatics would benefit all Emirati swimmers.

The swimming federation insist they will not stand in the way of Obaid Al Jasmi, the only Emirati swimmer with experience of competing at the Olympics, if he wants to seek independent assistance in chasing a third appearance at the Games.

Al Jasmi's bid to qualify for the London Olympics later this summer has been debilitated by heart surgery and a back injury in recent months.

The UAE are likely to be handed one wild card invitation for the Games, which is set to be granted to either Al Jasmi, 30, or Mubarak Salem Al Bashir, who is seven years his junior.

His youth, allied to his strong performances over the past year mean Al Bashir is thought to be in pole position for the trip, but Al Jasmi says he has not given up the fight yet.

The Abu Dhabi-based swimmer has vowed to prove his worth by setting new national records at a competition in Dubai later this month.

To aid his mission, he wants to tap in to the expertise at the highly successful independent academy, Hamilton Aquatics, as he bids to step up his programme after his health problems.

"What would happen if they combined the national team together with Hamilton?" Al Jasmi said. "Training together, all of us would succeed."

This country is not short of swimming talent. Last month, Velimir Stjepanovic, a Serbian swimmer who was born and raised in the UAE, posted the fastest 200 metre butterfly time of the year as he eased the qualification for the London Olympics.

The former Jumeirah College schoolboy's development has been overseen by Chris Tidey, a former Great Britain swimmer, for the past six years.

Tidey has a stable of elite swimmers at his Hamilton Aquatics academy, whose achievements have far outstripped those of the UAE national team to date.

Despite being based in the same city, and often using the same pool for training one after the other, the two entities work entirely independently of each other.

Al Jasmi believes the national swimming federation would frown on him wanting outside help, and says they have obstructed his attempts to do so in the past. However, the governing body are willing to allow it.

"Obaid is a very important swimmer for this area - the GCC, not just the Emirates," said Ayman Saad, the executive director of the UAE Swimming Federation.

"It is no problem for us if he would like to swim with them. We don't mind that, but I can't push him to swim. If he wants to go there, he just needs to ask and I will approve it no problems.

"I know it is a private company, but we need to build a swimming family with other people."

Tidey, the coach who has guided Stjepanovic's rise from 12-year-old novice to Olympic medal contender in the space of six years insists his door is open to everyone, including the UAE national team.

"I believe Obaid is very talented and I would have loved to have worked with him all the time since I have been out here," said Tidey, who first arrived in the country in 2005.

"People need the right stimulus and motivation. If Obaid came and swam with five other world class swimmers, or very good swimmers, like I have swimming with me now, he is going to want to improve. No one likes to get beaten in training day in, day out.

"If he works hard [between now and the Olympics], he is more than capable of getting to a reasonable level because he is talented."

Jay Benner, the national swimming coach, acknowledges time is slipping away from the country's most experienced swimmer, and that he needs to act fast.

"He really has to completely commit, be very focused and passionate about what he is attempting to do over the next four months," the American coach said.

"It really has to be his absolute priority, he has to be extremely, extremely committed."

Although Al Jasmi deems Benner an "excellent" coach and Mubarak to be "like my brother", he hopes starting a training programme with Hamilton will test him daily against better swimmers.

"Jay is more than good, he is an excellent coach," said Al Jasmi, who swam the national record of 53.29 seconds in the heats of the 100m freestyle at Beijing's Water Cube four years ago.

"But I need a teammate. I need someone better than me to swim with, otherwise I will not improve myself.

"Velimir, Tiago [Venancio] Stefan [Sorak, the aspiring Olympians at Hamilton Aquatics] all these guys are better than me, and I need to test myself against them."

pradley@thenational.ae

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