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.
Osman is a former junior world champion and World Aquatics Championships finalist, who last February swam the second-fastest 50 yard freestyle in history while competing for the University of California, Berkeley.
She captured her third individual gold medal at the Arab Championships on Wednesday, clocking 26.52 to touch the wall more than two seconds faster than second-placed Talita Baqlah of Jordan.
The 21-year-old was equally untouchable in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly.
Osman’s feats this week are all the more remarkable considering she only arrived from the United States last Sunday after helping the Cal Bears secure third place in the NCAA Championship.
“Honestly right now I’m exhausted, just traveling around, from the US, and competing the next day (here in Dubai) was really hard but I’m really happy to be here and be with my team-mates. I’m really proud to represent Egypt and compete with my team-mates,” Osman told Sport360 at the HSC.
Osman has already made history more than once, becoming the first Egyptian to make a World Championship final and the first to win gold at a World Junior Championship.
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
Last year, with Missy Franklin as a team-mate at her university, Osman helped the Cal Bears win the NCAAs.
This year, with Franklin ditching her amateur status and turning professional, Osman had more pressure on her shoulders but she says she was proud of the timings she posted, particularly that historic 50 yard free.
“Honestly before I swam I didn’t even think about that, I just wanted to go my best time and see how it goes and I’m just really happy that it was the second fastest ever,” she says.
With Rio just four months away, Osman’s attention will now shift to her Olympic dream. She’s aware that she carries the hopes of an entire nation behind her but is choosing to stay calm.
“Right now I’m not thinking about that, I’m trying just to motivate myself and do my best in practice and what’s going to happen is going to happen. I just want everyone to know that I’m doing my best and if it doesn’t come then it’s not in my hands,” said Osman.
“Getting a medal would mean the world to me. But my goal right now is just to go top eight. Because you know how fast swimmers are and the competition is really high so this is my goal right now.”
Also chasing history is Akram, who won 800m freestyle gold at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing in 2014.
Akram, who studies at University of South Carolina, also had a stellar NCAAs, where he took silver in the freestyle mile.
The 19-year-old, who is also battling jetlag but already has two golds and one silver in Dubai this week, placed fourth in the 1500m at the World Aquatic Championships in Kazan last year.
He says he “can’t wait” for Rio and has his eyes firmly set on the podium.
“I want to win a medal, so I’ll do my best, I’ll train hard. I’m going to stay in the US until May, then I’ll go back to Egypt and then we have a camp in Greece and I’ll try to do my best to be on that podium,” said Akram.