Sports / Olympic News Updates

Minnows among the sharks

By Agence France Presse In Rio De Janeiro (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-06 07:42

While swimming legend Michael Phelps flies first class, earns millions from lucrative sponsorship deals and is aided by scientific training methods, spare a thought for the sport's plucky minnows.

For swimmers from nations like Mongolia and the Maldives, simply finding a pool to train in is a challenge. Competing at the Rio Olympics is a truly staggering achievement.

In an indication of the difficulties athletes in the Maldives face, swimmers have to train in the Indian Ocean - often at night.

"In Maldives we train in the sea, we don't have a pool," national champion Aminath Shajan said on Thursday.

"Some days we train with all the trash that's floating around, and sometimes jellyfish bite us."

But teammate Nishwan Ibrahim still feels comfortable in the 25-meter ocean pool made of floating blocks that they share with fish and coral.

"It's a dim light at night, and there's waves and rubbish," he said. "When you breathe you might get water in your mouth - or worse.

"I've also seen big rays and jellyfish, so you can get scared. But when you get used to it, it's not so bad. It's easier to swim in the sea, when it's calm and clear, because it's more buoyant."

With the Maldives, a nation of under 350,000, lacking the financial means to improve the situation, both swimmers have spent time training overseas. Shajan went to Thailand and Ibrahim to South Africa, alongside Olympic champion Chad Le Clos.

"I'll definitely ask him for advice before I swim," smiled the 19-year-old, who will compete in the 50-meter freestyle. "I don't know what I'll ask, but I'll think of something."


While no real comparison to Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani, the dashing no-hoper from Equatorial Guinea who stole hearts at the 2000 Sydney Games after hopelessly thrashing around in the heats of the 100m free, Maldives swimmers have triggered similar outpourings.

At the Asian Games two years ago, Ibrahim got a standing ovation from the Korean crowd after completing the last lap of the 200m medley heats in complete solitude - only to discover he had been disqualified for an illegal turn.

Ibrahim will be joined in the 50m freestyle by intrepid Mongolian Dulguun Batsaikhan, who trained for Rio in a river due to a lack of proper facilities.

"I have only big fishes for training partners," said the 29-year-old, who had to slum it in the build-up to Rio, driving 450 kilometers to plunge into the Selenga River.

"It can get a bit cold, but it's OK. My philosophy has always been that water is water."

Shajan, meanwhile, wants to improve her own national record in the women's 100m freestyle - and top it off by taking a selfie with swimming legend Michael Phelps.

When Maldives coach Ismail Faruhaan proudly flashed a photo he had taken with the American the night before, the pint-sized 22-year-old shot back: "I'm really, really jealous actually. Maybe I'll edit my face onto it!"

(China Daily 08/06/2016 page12)

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