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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

No time to bask in British Swimming Championships success for JESS Dubai pupil Lewis Burras 

The JESS sixth-form pupil, who won two gold medals in Scotland recently, faces an anxious wait to learn whether he will make the Britain squad announced on Friday for the European Junior Championships in July

Lewis Burras, a sixth-form pupil at JESS School Dubai, shows off his medals from the recently concluded British Swimming Championships. Victor Besa / The National
Lewis Burras, a sixth-form pupil at JESS School Dubai, shows off his medals from the recently concluded British Swimming Championships. Victor Besa / The National

For most athletes, returning home from a national championship with two gold medals might afford the winner time to bask in the warm glow of glory.

Not so for Lewis Burras. The 18 year old recently returned to Dubai, a place he has called home since he was three months old, from the British Swimming Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland having bested some of the finest talent from those shores. Burras won junior gold in the 50m butterfly and silver in the senior men's 50m freestyle before touching home ahead of a high quality field that included Duncan Scott, a double silver medalist from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, in the senior 100m freestyle.

And while those achievements may have afforded most athletes a few days off to celebrate, for Burras it was a case of back to school to hit the books. After all, exams are only weeks away.

Like most fledgling swimmers Burras hopes his career culminates with an appearance at an Olympic Games. “Winning a gold medal would be great,” he said. But a maturity belies his tender years. A sixth-form pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School Dubai (JESS) Burras recognises that having an education to fall back on is important as his time in the water “won’t last forever”.

"JESS have been phenomenal," said Burras, who took time out from his lessons on Wednesday to speak over the phone about his education as well as his Edinburgh exploits.

"Ever since I have been going away competitively since Year 10 they’ve made special arrangements for me. They’ve helped me sit down with teachers to catch up on all the work I’ve missed ... the staff help me plan and prepare and even get ahead so that while I’m away I’m not falling behind in class and stay on top of the work so it doesn’t pile up.”

Burras is studying an International Baccalaureate where his subjects include sports science and business studies. His exams start in seven weeks’ time after which he will continue his education overseas after verbally committing to a scholarship at the University of Virginia in the United States.

"I have been lucky enough to receive an athletics scholarship, which will give me the opportunity to go over there and get the best of both worlds," said Burras, who is 190-centimetres tall and weighs 80-kilograms. "So I’m able to get a high class education as well as the best swimming programme suited to me.”

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But it's not just the books that Burras is hitting hard, as he hopes his performances in Edinburgh have done enough for him to earn selection for the British team heading for the European Junior Championships in Helsinki this summer.

That means no let up in training.

"A typical day for me begins with a 4.30am alarm call followed by a light breakfast," he said. "Then my dad takes me to go and train from 5.30am to 7am. After that I go straight to school and do a full day from 7.50am till 3.10pm. Then I head straight to another Hamilton Aquatics pool and train from 4pm to 7pm. That includes land training and swimming. On a Monday night I also go to the gym afterwards as well.

“On average I swim about 10kms a day.”

Despite his two gold medals in Scotland, Burras faces an anxious wait to learn whether he will make the Britain squad announced on Friday for the European Championships in July. His winning time in the 100m final of 49.89 seconds – a personal best – was easily within the qualifying time for Finland. His coach at Hamilton Aquatics, Ash Morris, believes he is capable of going under 48 seconds.

“I definitely hope to be picked," Burras said. "And I think If I was to be picked it would be a good chance for me to show my country that I can step up to the big stage and I can redeem myself from my past mistakes.”

Those "past mistakes" were crammed into just a few fitful years in the fledgling career of Burras. Far from being dispirited, Burras explains they have fuelled him to go on and achieve even greater things.

“I’d be lying if I said my swimming career has gone smoothly," he said. "I’ve had my fair share of setbacks. In 2015 and 2016 I missed out on making the [British] junior team for getting disqualified from certain events. And then when I did make the 2017 world junior team I unfortunately got disqualified in the 50m freestyle semi-final.

“At times it’s been difficult to overcome those disappointments. Now I feel that I’m in a place where I can learn from those experiences. It motivates me to not be scared of making mistakes, because in life you’re always going to fail at some point, but to not be afraid of taking risks.”

Those setbacks might have put paid to the aspirations of athletes of a lesser constitution. Speaking to his head coach Morris, however, you sense that was never likely to be the case with Burras.

“He has been very easy to coach. He’s self-goal driven since the age of nine when I first started coaching him. Every year Lewis has set himself new goals and sets the benchmark higher.”

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