Egyptian duo Farida Osman and Ahmed Akram will both be chasing history at the Rio 2016 Games this summer as they attempt to become the first swimmers from their country to win Olympic medals.
The pair have been obliterating their competition in the Arab Swimming Championships that will conclude in Dubai at the Hamdan Sports Complex (HSC) and have legitimate chances of making the podium in Rio this August.
They’ve been leading a major swimming revolution in Egypt and are amongst five swimmers who have qualified for the 2016 Olympics with A-standard times – an unprecedented tally for the North African nation in the sport. There are 14 more Egyptians who have swum B-standard times and will have to wait until July to find out if they’ve been awarded places at the Games.
Egypt are on course towards defending their Arab Championships title as they head into Thursday’s final day at the top of the medals table.
Egypt's Ahmed Akram aiming to become Egypt's first The Olympic Games gold medallist swimmer.Posted by Sport 360 on Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Egypt’s Ahmed Akram made history at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing when he claimed gold in the 800m freestyle to become the first swimmer from his country to win a medal at an Olympic event.
After a superb NCAA Championship the University of South Carolina student has now set his sights firmly on Olympic gold at Rio 2016.
"That was an outstanding season for me," said the Cairo native. "It gives me a lot of confidence ahead of the Olympics. In the 1500 I am going to have to be so fast to make the finals in the afternoon."
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New UAE swimming national team coach, Eetu Karvonen, admits that Olympic qualification is a “long shot” for the Emirati swimmers competing at the ongoing Arab Championships in Dubai, but said “everything is possible”.
Karvonen, a multiple-time Finland national champion swimmer, took the reins of the team three months ago and is still adapting to the swim culture in the Emirates.
The 29-year-old was an assistant coach at Grand Canyon University in the United States, where he got a taste of Arab swimming through Egypt’s El Kamash brothers, who attended his programme.
“I started looking for something else to do and I’ve always thought about Arab swimming, or basically places where the swimming culture is not as accepted as in other places like in the USA. So, I generally sent out my resume. It was kind of the right time, they needed a coach and I accepted,” Karvonen said at the Hamdan Sports Complex (HSC).
“I’m adapting to the swimming culture here which is very different from anywhere else in the world.”
Asked what was the trickiest thing he’s had to adapt to so far, he added: “Probably schedules. I am originally from Finland, where it is very authority-led. So, if somebody says something, that’s how it is. Also in the US universities, because they’re paying for swimmers to be there, everything is rule-based.
“But here, you have to be a little more open. The swimmers, they will train, but you can’t be too strict about that stuff.”
The Arab Championships, which serves as a qualifying event for the Rio 2016 Olympics, kicked off on Monday at the HSC with a few Emiratis in the mix.
Khaled Al Dabbous, who is currently attending Tampa University in the US, placed fourth in the 50m freestyle final, with his timing of 23.37 falling short of the 23.05 B-standard time required for the Olympics.
“It’s a long shot,” Karvonen concedes when asked about Olympic qualification.
“But everything is possible, as long as they don’t get too nervous about it.
“But as a general for the team, our goal is to keep getting better. If we can break as many personal bests as possible then I would assume then we’d be higher than last time (in the competition).”
UAE’s Yaaqoub Al Saadi was sixth in the 200m backstroke, clocking 2:14.03, over eight seconds behind gold medallist Ahmed Wahby of Egypt.
Egyptian star and former world junior champion, Farida Osman, opened her account with gold in the 50m freestyle, with a 25.60 swim.