A world championship can mean many different things to people and while representing your home country on such a huge platform is an honour for any athlete, some have an extra reason to draw pride and motivation from raising their nation’s flag at a global meet.
Bayan Jumah, a 21-year-old swimmer from Syria, is trying to qualify to her second Olympic Games in efforts to bring some joy to her war-torn country.
Jumah is from Aleppo but moved to Damascus to attend university and train to become a professional swimmer.
Kazan will be her third Worlds participation and she hopes to clock an Olympic standard qualifying time to book a ticket to Rio next year.
“It is very important for me to qualify to Rio as I consider myself a warrior, like the brave souls fighting back home, but my job is a swimmer instead,” Jumah told Sport360 ahead of her first race, the 100m freestyle scheduled for Thursday.
“So raising the Syrian flag or hearing the Syrian national anthem brings me so much pride and like any Syrian man or woman, I dream that peace would return to my country one day.”
Jumah is the only female swimmer at that level in Syria so she trains with the men’s team while in Damascus.
“This will be my third World Championships but I feel like I am a much better swimmer now than before and that the experience I got from my previous participations has helped me a lot improve as a competitor,” she says. “My time is very close to the Rio qualification standard and I’m very hopeful in making it.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed Gebrel is hoping to become the first Palestinian swimmer to reach two Olympics as he targets a qualifying time in the 200m and 400m freestyle in Russia this week.
Gebrel, 24, was awarded an Olympic scholarship back in 2012 to train at the Centre d’Alt Rendiment in Barcelona in preparation for the London Games and he has been based in the Spanish city every since.
Born to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother, Gebrel leads a three-swimmer strong squad at Worlds in Kazan.
“The feeling when I represent my country won’t be compared with anything else. All what I think about is to represent Palestine in the best way,” he says.
— Mona Ameen (@mo_am10) July 24, 2012
“After London my scholarship was renewed for four years to prepare for the Olympic games in Rio 2016. Me as a Palestinian swimmer I want to be the first swimmer in Palestine who participates in two Olympic Games. That motivates me a lot and I’m always putting it as my goal. I’m ready for the Worlds and focusing on my practices.”
US swim star Ryan Lochte is looking to bounce back from what he describes as his ‘worst year’ in 2014 when the world swimming championships begin on Sunday.
With 15 world championship gold medals to his name, Lochte is one of the most decorated swimmers at the Kazan world championships and is hunting his fourth straight gold in the 200m individual medley.
But a poor performance by his own lofty standards at last year’s USA trials means Lochte will swim the 200m IM and 200m freestyle in Kazan – the fewest individual events he has ever raced at a major international meet in 11 years.
He is the first to admit 2014 was a significant blip in his glittering career after returning too soon following torn knee ligaments in 2013.
He won just one gold at last August Pan Pacific Games in Australia in the 4x200m freestyle relay and thoughts of retirement entered the 30-year-old’s mind.
It was the first time Lochte failed to win multiple individual medals at a major meeting since the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“After 2012, I didn’t have a bad year in 2013, but 2014 was one of the worst of my swimming careers. I just wasn’t there mentally or physically,” he said.
Gone are the days of pizza and chicken wings on a Friday night as he knuckled down to some serious training.
“I started to train again properly. I’ve been more focused and taking care of my body inside and outside of the pool.
And Lochte says his confidence is coming back.
“The biggest improvement this year has been my confidence. Now that I’m back in shape, I’m getting my confidence back and everything is looking good for 2016 (Olympics in Rio).”
Great Britain's Tom Daley and Rebecca Gallantree won the mixed team diving title at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, while home favourite Natalia Ishchenko triumphed in synchronised swimming's solo free final.