Dubai: Dubai-born Serbian swimmer Velimir Stjepanovic is delighted to have exceeded all expectation on his Olympic debut by finishing sixth in the final of the 200m butterfly.
Stjepanovic, 18, won his heat with a personal best and national record time of 1 minute 54.99 seconds, before qualifying from the semi-finals with a time of 1:55.13.
While Tuesday’s final will be better remembered worldwide for Chad Le Clos’ narrow win over Michael Phelps, Stjepanovic’s grip on third place right up until the 150m mark has captured imaginations closer to home. He eventually slipped to sixth with a time of 1:55.07, 2.11 seconds off gold.
“I was very lucky to make the final. The goal was to make the semis but I exceeded this and more,” Stjepanovic told Gulf News. “I would have liked to have re-broken my personal best in the final, but all three of my races were within 0.1 of a second of each other. It was close and I really gave it my all.”
Stjepanovic, who was also part of Serbia’s first ever 4x100m freestyle relay team earlier in the week, added: “It was great to race with Phelps in the 200m butterfly [final], especially as this is likely to be his last competition. It was a legendary race to be involved in for that reason and Le Clos had an epic swim with an amazing time. It means a huge deal for me to be involved and the whole experience has given me great motivation for the future.
“This has definitely been a big eye-opener in terms of what I can achieve. It was a fantastic to experience — 17,000 spectators all cheering, it really drove me forward and gave me goose bumps.”
Stjepanovic’s coach Chris Tidey said: “To make the final was a massive bonus. From his 100m free and fly European junior double last year, not only has he made the step-up in age but also distance. Other athletes have been training two to three years for this event, but we literally only took it up seriously eight months ago.
“He started training for the 200m last April with a personal best of 1:59.09, so he’s cut five seconds in 15 months. This shows massive potential for the future and we can expect him to be medalling at Rio [2016 Olympics], if not next summer’s World Championships in Barcelona. He’s still a boy, weighs 75kg and has an inch to grow. He was the youngest in that final. Greater speed and strength will only come with age.”