Dubai: Long-time UAE resident Velimir Stjepanovic is hoping to present himself with a medal as a late birthday gift next month as he prepares to travel to Singapore for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
"Going to an important competition like the Youth Olympic Games, I am obviously nervous. But I have been training really hard, and with that I have got some confidence in what I can achieve and this helps me to stay focused," Stjepanovic told Gulf News as he continued with the final leg of training under the watchful eye of coach Chris Tidey at the GEMS Academy swimming pool off Al Khail Road.
Born and brought up in Dubai, Stjepanovic — who turns 17 on August 7 — will be competing under the Serbian flag at the first-ever YOG to be held in Singapore from August 14-26.
The Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games will receive some 5,000 athletes and officials from the 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), along with an estimated 1,200 media representatives, 20,000 local and international volunteers, and 320,000 spectators. Young athletes — aged between 14 and 18 years — will compete in 26 sports disciplines and take part in the Culture and Education Programme during the course of the 12 days of the Games. "Winning medals in the 100 metres freestyle and 100 metres fly at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games is among my main short-term goals," Stjepanovic said.
The Serbian youngster started swimming when he was barely six, but that was more for fitness. However, by the time he was 12 his path crossed with that of coach Chris Tidey, who had relocated to Dubai from Cambridge. After a brief six-month training regimen under Tidey, Stjepanovic won his first medal, a bronze, at a competition in England. "Chris convinced me that I could be a really good swimmer and that's where my career took off as I started believing in myself and what I could achieve," Stjepanovic said.
Following this initial success, Stjepanovic has continued showing marked improvements in his timings since the past couple of years. And then two weeks ago, he won at the European Junior Swimming Championships in Helsinki, thus earning the right to compete in Singapore next month. "Definitely, a medal looks very much a possibility for me," he said coyly.
With the 10th Fina Swimming Championships (25 metre) scheduled to be held in Dubai at the end of the year, Stjepanovic also has his eyes fixed on that competition. "I love Dubai as it is such a multi-cultural place. And GEMS has been so good in giving us the swimming pool facility," Stjepanovic said.
"But first I need to concentrate on my qualification times if I want to swim in the Fina competition here in December," he added.
Stjepanovic is scheduled to leave for Singapore on August 6 to spend a few days to acclimatise before the Games start on August 14.