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Ready to make a splash for the Arab world

posted on 20/06/2012: 2318 views

I had made the trip down to the massive structure that is the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex to catch the UAE swim team practice, and more specifically, the man who is preparing to represent the Emirates at the London 2012 Olympics – Mubarak Salem Al Besher.

The swimmers had been doing two-a-day sessions, two hours each, and despite the time approaching 8pm, Al Besher was still doing his laps with unrelenting focus as one breaststroke followed the other.

The 24-year-old has been training since he was nine years old at the Al Wasl Club, and first flew the UAE flag in competition at age 10, way back in 1998. But Al Besher, together with the sport, have come a long way since then, and the venue at which he trains now says it all.

"We've been training at this complex for the past seven months. We got some good results which finally led them to allow us to train here,” says Al Besher, of the state-of-the-art estimated Dh1.1 billion facility.

Al Besher, like many swimmers in the country, was not always solely dedicated to the sport, and after he had graduated from high school, he abandoned his training for two years (2007-2008) for a military rotation.

A hand injury then prolonged his absence from the pool, but since 2009, he has been doing nothing but swimming. Under the guidance of American coach, Jay Benner, Al Besher has been consistently improving his timings and has shattered the UAE national records in all breaststroke events no less than half a dozen times.

Al Besher says: "The reason I've been successfully improving my timings with every competition is that I only focus on two races - the 50m and 100m breaststroke. Those are my speciality and I'm completely dedicated to them.

"Inshallah, I'll clock another personal best in London. I'm expecting a surprise there,” he hints with a smile.

Al Besher has bagged medals at several GCC competitions, and barely missed out on the bronze at the Arab Games in Doha last December, which left him disappointed until he realised he had clocked 1min 04.60sec, a new UAE record and personal best in his signature event, the 100m breaststroke.

"During the heats in the Arab Games, I was a bit nervous but once I made the final, all my fears disappeared. My goal was to win a medal. But I was 0.17s from third place which was disappointing. But still, when I realised the time I clocked, I was proud of it because it was a personal best for me and it's not an easy time to swim,” he recalls.

London calling

Al Besher is currently in full preparation mode for London. He just got back from Spain, where he had a training camp in Malaga, before he competed in the opening leg of the Mare Nostrum series in Barcelona, that saw a world-class field in the pool. He swam 1:06.04 there but he says it was a successful time in Spain nonetheless:

"The training camp went well and I swam a couple of races in Barcelona as a practice to test myself. I'm off to London now for another camp and I'll also compete in a swim meet there in a few weeks as part of my preparation.”

His goals for London are realistic and clear. Benner wants him to get as close as possible to the Olympic B-Standard qualifying time of 1:03.61, while Al Besher wants to do the Arab world proud. He also has one eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"My first goal is to break an Arab record and accomplish something no other Arab has done. So God willing, if I clock 1min 3sec or 1min 2sec, I will be very happy in London,” he says.

"For me, the big championships give me extra motivation, regardless of how talented the swimming field is. So every big event I enter, I swim better and better and get more enthusiastic to do even better in the following meets. And hopefully it'll stay that way for 2016.

"If you put it in your mind that you want to quit, then you will quit within 10 days. But that is not the case with me. I'm very motivated. We'll have to see how far I can go.”

The UAE team coach, Benner, also believes Al Besher can get even better for Rio 2016. The American says: "Mubarak has made a pretty significant improvement for a guy at his stage who's 24 now. If he remains on track, he's capable of really good things in the next four years.

"The more time he has is only going to benefit him. Being 24-year-old it's not old in this day and age in swimming. He had two years out of the sport from age 18 to 20 which is a significant time to be out of it, but he's going to get stronger and mature more physically.

"We're going to go into London with the goal of trying to be at his best there but the opportunity for four more years to take that next step forward is only going to help him.” - Sport 360°


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