Dubai: Top Olympic swimmers lived up to form while qualifying for the finals on the opening day of the first round of the Fina/Arena Swimming World Cup at the Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Sports Complex yesterday morning.
There were few surprises as a field, including world and Olympic champions dusted off the cobwebs and hit the pool for the first major competition for many since the Olympic Games in London.
Olympic gold medallist Cameron Van der Burgh qualified fastest for the 50m breaststroke ahead of countryman Roland Schoeman, with van der Burgh later saying that it was only his sixth time in the water since the Olympics. “I am lucky I have good muscle memory so the lack of training hasn’t been too bad, it feels good to get a good swim in before the finals tonight,” the South African said.
“I love Dubai and this time I have had the chance to go to the beach and look around so it’s a nice way to get away from the madness after the Olympics and get back into swimming,” he added.
Fellow South African and Olympic gold medallist Chad Le Clos is also returning to the pool after five weeks off and qualified second in the event he won in London, the 200m butterfly, behind Daiya Seto of Japan. Le Clos said: “It’s good to get the cobwebs out and I’ll be out to catch him tonight. I don’t want to jinx myself but I’ve never lost in Dubai, I’ve won eight out of eight events here and I want to continue like that,” he said. Le Clos also qualified third for the 50m butterfly behind Schoeman and Kenyan powerhouse Jason Dunford.
The swimmers were unanimous in their praise of Dubai and of the venue. Kenneth To of Australia, who qualified fastest in the 100m Individual medley, said: “I love this pool, it’s a great venue, one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
The Australian team had a good morning, with other fastest qualifiers in Rachel Goh in the women’s 50m backstroke and Tommaso D’Orsogna in the 100m freestyle.
Velimir Stjepanovic, who lives in the UAE and represented Serbia in the London Olympics, is swimming for his club in this meet and qualified fourth in the 200m butterfly. “I am still feeling a little sluggish after a three-week break after the Olympics, but I am pretty happy so far,” he said.
Stjepanovic will have two chances for a podium finish tonight though as he also qualified for the 400m freestyle final.
The swimmers were also delighted with the enthusiastic crowd this morning, led by the drumming and cheering from a group of vocal 6th graders from the Omar Bin Al Khattab Model School for Boys from Abu Hail, Dubai. The children thoroughly enjoyed seeing Olympic and world champions in action, and their encouragement was much appreciated by the competitors.
Wednesday is the second and final day of the competition with heats from 9 to 11 am, with finals later in the evening from 6 to 8.
Tickets to the event will be available at the door, at the Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Sports Complex, which is located on the Dubai Bypass Road (E611).