The desert isn’t the most obvious location for an international swimming championship, but then the UAE has a habit of hosting a number of major sporting events in spite of its dry and dusty environs. This year, the FINA World Swimming Championships comes to Dubai for the first time in what will be the 10th instalment of the bi-annual event.
As with the rugby, golf and horse racing, Dubai is rising to the challenge of hosting this high-profile sporting event, unveiling a new, state-of-the art 10,000-seater swimming arena at the Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex on the Dubai Bypass Road. Exciting stuff – especially for Obaid Ahmed Al Jesmi, captain of the UAE swimming team. ‘I am really proud of what my country has done – we’re holding the first World Swimming Championships in the Middle East and we have built one of the best swimming pools in the world in which to host it,’ he tells Time Out. ‘It’s a new challenge for the UAE – we have the chance to show people what we can do.’
Obaid isn’t the only one to be impressed by the new swimming arena; on her visit to Dubai earlier this year, US swim team coordinator Candi MacConaugha was said to be wowed by the venue. Good news for the championships, and good news for the Dubai residents who will be able to use the facilities once they draw to a close.
When asked which swimmers he’s particularly looking forward to competing against, Obaid says he’s just happy to be part of the World Championships. ‘It’s good to swim and compete against any swimmers…’ he explains. Yet when asked which swimmer he particularly respects, the answer is an obvious one. ‘Michael Phelps, for sure. He won at the Beijing Olympics… he’s the best.’
However, Obaid and many fans will be disappointed to learn that Phelps has not yet confirmed his attendance at the World Championships. Nevertheless, Obaid will still face some of the world’s top swimmers, including Phelps’s friend and US teammate Ryan Lochte, who holds the world record for the 200-metre medley, an event in which Obaid will be taking part.
Other big names include Natalie Coughlin (who, in 2008, became the first female American athlete to win six medals at one Olympic Games), 50m and 100m breaststroke world-record holder Jessica Hardy, and world-record distance swimmer Kate Ziegler.
Perhaps the most interesting event for local fans will be the men’s relay, in which Obaid is competing along with his three brothers – Wahid, Faisel and Ayed. This remarkable line-up is the first time a family has represented a country in an international swimming event, yet Obaid hopes that the novelty of himself and his three brothers racing will not detract from what they hope to achieve. While Obaid is realistic about his chances against such stellar international opponents, he hopes that the team will be able to set a benchmark by breaking national records and, in doing so, increase the popularity of the sport in the UAE. ‘Hopefully, when young people see the event and what we can do, they will want to be swimmers too.’
The 10th FINA World Swimming Championships takes place on December 15-19. Tickets can be bought via the official Championships website at www.dubaiswimming2010.ae.
Want to get involved and hone your swimming skills? Most apartment complexes in Dubai boast their own pools, but few are big enough to practise lengths properly. The sea is also an obvious location to streamline your strokes, but for those who prefer their swimming unsalted, head to Rashid Park, which boasts two 25m pools – one for men and one for women. Entry costs Dhs10. Alternatively, there are two pools (one for men, one for women) at Dubai Men’s and Dubai Women’s College (04 403 8637; 04 208 9656). The men’s pool is one of the few 50-metre pools in Dubai, while the women’s is 25 metres. Monthly membership for men is Dhs300, or Dhs50 per visit, while membership for women is Dhs540 for the first three months, then Dhs180 from then on.
What: FINA World Swimming Championships When: December 15-19 Where: Rashid Sports Complex Tickets: From Dhs10