Yaaqoub Al Saadi yesterday made history for the UAE after becoming the first Emirati swimmer to achieve a B-standard qualifying time for a major swimming event.
On Day 3 of the Dubai International Aquatic Championships, Al Saadi, 17, clocked 27.71 seconds in the morning heats for the 50m backstroke to achieve the B-standard qualifying time – which is 28.14 seconds – for this summer’s Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China.
Al Saadi later swam 27.88 seconds in the evening finals to place fourth and just miss out on the podium by finishing 0.16 seconds slower than Emirati bronze medallist Mohammed Al Ghaferi.
“It’s magnificent. What he did is like a miracle, it’s something very big,” said UAE national team assistant coach Mohamed El Zanaty.
“He swam so well in the morning that he’s way faster than the B-cut.”
Al Saadi was one second slower than the B-cut in the 200m backstroke on Day 2, but he’s looking to qualify in a second event – the 100m today.
While achieving a B-standard time does not guarantee a spot in Nanjing, since priority is given to those swimming faster than the A-standard, El Zanaty says in Al Saadi’s case, the young teenager has virtually qualified.
He said: “In case of the Emirates, a B-cut qualifying time means that 90 per cent he has qualified to Nanjing.”
And Al Saadi said: “There are still competitions coming up where I can try to achieve the A-standard time. I know I can do better, I know I have it in me.”
Meanwhile, Al Ghaferi was disappointed to finish in third place after he had qualified fastest in the morning heats. He clocked 27.40 seconds in the morning and 27.72 in the final.
Elsewhere, 14-year-old Yousef Al Hossani broke the UAE national record in the 200m medley, while Olympian Mubarak Al Besher broke his own GCC record in the 50m breaststroke for a third time, becoming the first ever Emirati to go under 29 seconds in the event.
Al Besher swam 28.79 seconds and is now a mere 0.24 seconds off the B-standard qualifying time for next year’s World Championships in Kazan, while in the 100m, he took bronze, clocking 1:04.90.
“I swam a PB in the 50m and I’m really happy about that. But I really wanted to achieve the B-cut here to get qualification out of the way early on. I still have a whole year to get that B-cut,” said Al Besher.
Former European champion Evelyn Verraszto won two gold, in the 200m medley and 50m backstroke.
“I really like to be in Dubai, this is one of the best pools in the world and it’s so amazing to compete in it,” said Verraszto. “If a lot of fast swimmers come here, it’s good for the country.”
In today’s action, UAE junior swimmer Ali Al Kaabi will attempt to book a ticket to Nanjing in the 50m butterfly.
Scottish swimming star Michael Jamieson is in Dubai this week for a short vacation and some training but the Olympic silver medallist still made the time to conduct a couple of swim clinics for the swimmers of the Active Sports Academy.
The 25-year-old Glaswegian is the face of this summer’s Commonwealth Games in his hometown and after several silver medal showings in major events is looking to finally top the podium in the 200m breaststroke.
With the Commonwealth Games taking place in your hometown, is there a lot of pressure on you?
Yes, I think so. Since the Olympic Games my life has completely changed and I think there is a lot of pressure now but that’s part of sport I guess. When you’re lucky enough to produce good results then people come to expect that. But for me it’s just about continuing to do what I’m doing in training and keep trying to improve and swim faster.
You say your life changed a lot of after London, in what ways has it changed?
What gets you out of bed every single morning so early for practice?
It’s just the incentive of winning medals. It’s easy for me now because I have the Commonwealth Games to look forward to which is a home Games for me, right at my doorstep.
It’s a huge event and a huge opportunity for me. After silver at the last Commonwealth Games, silver in the London Olympics, silver at the World Championships, I’m looking to keep improving and move up to the top of podium.
I believe you also have your eyes on the 200m breaststroke world record…
The main thing for me is not worrying too much about it. I want to swim faster and faster. I’m getting close to that world record time now. I’ve swam 2:07 three times now – the record is 2:07.00 so I’m kind of knocking on the door, getting close to that, and I would love to do it this summer. But I think I just need to keep in mind that it’s a major championship. If I had the choice I would pick the podium over the record.
Where are you at in terms of your preparations right now?
I’ve had a few days off now after gaining my selection to the team last week. I think early next week I’ll start to do a little bit of training out here in Dubai – some swim training, some gym work and just gradually build things up. When I go back to the UK I’ll have 12 or 13 weeks left of training until the Commonwealths so that’ll be a really intense period where I’ll be really focused.
Do you get pumped up even more after a young swimmer like Ross Murdoch beat you in the 100m at the Scottish nationals last week?
Yes of course. I think in a sense I’ve been quite lucky to race the 100m breaststroke at worlds and Olympics because in the last five years or so we haven’t really had an outright 100m sprinter. My main event is always the 200m so coming down for the 100m is always quite difficult. I think in terms of the level, I’m not at the same level in the 100 as I am in the 200. It’s always a work in progress for me.
In the 200m, you have Daniel Gyurta who’s so dominant in the event. Do you think you’re close to finally beating him?
He’s been so dominant in that event for the last four, five years now, he’s won everything.
I’ve still never beaten him. I think I’m getting closer to him. He is one of the best breaststrokers in history.
What’s your training like leading up to major events?
I think leading into the main meets, we have a long cycle of 12 weeks of really hard training and then a 3-4 week period where the volume and intensity reduces quite a lot so you can be fresh and rested to race fast at the majors.
Intense training is about 55,000-60,000m a week, 10-12 hours in the gym, so it’s about 30 to 35 hours a week in total.
Who do you draw inspiration from?
I don’t tend to pick the standout sporting idols. I’ve got a lot of respect for my team-mates I’ve had over the years especially the guys who haven’t been able to qualify for things like world championships and Olympic Games because swimming is such a tough sport and it’s a full-time commitment.
For them to come back into the sport and keep trying to progress – those are the guys I have the most the respect for.
What do you think of Michael Phelps coming back?
To be honest, it’s not surprising. I think after being in the sport for so long and having that level of commitment for so many years – just to retire and not to get in the pool again and not to train and not to have the adrenaline and excitement for competing, it’s so difficult for your head. And emotionally I think it’ll be quite hard to deal with. He’s just looking for a bit more excitement again in his life. I kind of sympathise with him really.
I think a lot of athletes kind of find ourselves in that position when they retire that they struggle to find something that excited them as much as their sporting career did.
I heard you’re into DJing…
I love music and I’ve only just started learning some software and just playing around. Maybe it’s something that develops into a hobby and something I can spend some time on out of the pool.
So when you’re training, you’re usually rocking out to electronic music…
Not when I’m actually in the pool but I love house and techno music. The UK has a really big scene for that. There’s a guy called Seth Troxler and a female DJ called Maya Jane Coles, I think those are my favourites now.
We catch up with Sameera Al Bitar, a two-time Olympic swimmer from Bahrain, to discover her favourites memories of the sport and find out just what has been the toughest swim of her long and successful career.
Sameera Al Bitar
Date of birth: February 21, 1990
Birthplace: Amman, Jordan
City of residence: Dubai
Team/Club: Bahrain National team – currently training with Dubai Masters Club.
Favourite stroke? Freestyle
How did you initially get into swimming? I was taught at a very young age how to swim, and by the time I was in first grade I joined the school’s swim team and been doing it since then.
Favourite swimmer? Egypt’s Rania Elwani
Inspiration/idol? Nawal El Moutawakel, for being the first Arab female to win a gold at the Olympics
Nicest venue you’ve ever swum in? Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai and the Water Cube in Beijing.
Career highlight/best achievement in the pool to date? Swimming at the Olympics in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
Toughest swim meet you’ve ever been part of? The 2003 World Championships in Barcelona – I was extremely nervous as it was my first international competition.
Biggest dream/goal in swimming? Qualifying for the Olympics rather than going as a wildcard holder.
Favourite meal? Grilled salmon and asparagus, with a salad on the side, followed by something sweet.
Favourite place to visit in the UAE? The Dubai Fountain and Meydan Beach Club.
Least favourite part of swimming practice? The first couple of minutes after jumping into a cold pool.
Other sports or hobbies? I enjoy all kinds of sport, but recently I’ve been trying to focus on training for a triathlon – maybe an ironman one day
Coolest person you’ve ever met? Kobe Bryant
Favourite sporting moment you’ve ever watched? Egypt’s Farida Osman swimming the 50m fly semifinals and managing to finish 11th at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona.