INTERVIEW: Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman eyes 100m butterfly glory at Rio Olympics

Ahmed Abd El Rasoul , Friday 14 Aug 2015

After getting a warm reception at Cairo Airport when she returned from the World Championships in Russia, Egypt's best female swimmer of all time talks to Ahram Online about her Olympic goals

Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman
Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman (Reuters)

Achieving an outstanding performance at the recent 2015 FINA World Championships and being Egypt’s best-ever female swimmer is not sufficient for Farida Osman, who has plans for more glory at next year’s Olympics in Brazil.

“It is a great feeling after seeing the national team breaking new records. The whole team ranking became better as the majority of swimmers ended the tournament in the top 20. Ahmed Akram and I reached the final and all of that was nice,” Osman told Ahram Online.

Egypt’s team made a huge surge at the World Championships in the Russian city of Kazan, breaking 11 national records. 

Twenty-year-old Osman was the first-ever Egyptian to qualify for the women’s 50m butterfly final at the World Championships, just a day before Akram finished fourth in the men's 1500m final.

On Saturday, Farida finished fifth with a time of 25.78 seconds, beating her own Egyptian and African record of 25.88 which she had set in the 50m butterfly semi-final a day earlier.

Swedish world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom won the gold medal after finishing with 24.96 seconds, a World Championship record.

“I am happy with my own results especially as they came after much effort,” said Osman, who also finished 16th in the 100m freestyle but didn't qualify for the semi-final after losing a swim-off.

“It is true that I said that my results in Russia were the best possible, as I didn’t expect them at all, but finally it proved that I am on the right track,” she added.

Alone in the USA

Staying in the USA, training hard, being away from family and friends, and even cooking for herself are small chapters in an interesting story behind the success of the student at the University of California, Berkeley.

“After ending the semester at my university, I remained alone in the USA for almost two months to continue my training with my coach,” Osman explained.

“It was bad luck that my former coach in Egypt is no longer there now, and so the university’s coach is currently the only option.

“Deciding to stay in the US without my family and friends was the main challenge ahead of the championship. I was even cooking for myself. I intended to do all that I could to be on top form,” the winner of the seventh place in the 2013 Barcelona World Championships added.

Without a coach in Kazan

For the first time since the establishment of the Egyptian Swimming Association in 1910, in Kazan the Pharaohs appeared in two finals and one semifinal.

Seven Egyptians made history at the 16th edition of the World Championships, making Egypt the top record-breaker in the tournament.

“My main problem in Kazan was that she [the university coach] is also responsible for the US national team. It was good to see her beside me, but she wasn’t allowed to train me there according to her job rules,” said Osman.  

“Egypt coach Sherif Habaib offered me help or advice at times, but definitely the absence of the direct supervision of my personal coach made my mission a little bit difficult, especially as it is the World Championships,” she added.

Surprise results

Farida, who swims for Ciro's Gezira club, believes her achievement in the 50m butterfly final has its own flavour, hailing the solidarity among Egyptian team members in Kazan.

“The most difficult challenge in Kazan was in the 50m butterfly final as I was competing with 64 other swimmers. I was always worried as any small fault could cost a lot in that small distance with the presence of that number of competitors.

“Finishing fifth was a pleasant surprise for me as two years ago my best achievement was seventh place. I was also the youngest swimmer and those from other countries who train with me in the US were outside the top five.

“My main target was to set new records. I didn’t know to what extent I would do that and so my achievement was a nice surprise.

“In Kazan, we [the Egyptian team] were close to each other, encouraging each other to get the best results. Coach Habib had an important role as he was monitoring all of us. Also having a physiotherapist and massage therapist for the first time with the national team helped us achieve success.”

Olympics preparation

In her only Olympic appearance to date, in London in 2012, Osman finished 42nd with a time of 26.34 in the 50m freestyle. Now, she has a different outlook for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after reaching a new level of maturity.

“In the coming competitions, I will have my sights set on Rio 2016. I will be competing there in the 100m butterfly, 100m free and 50m free so the trio will take all my concentration in the coming period,” Osman told Ahram Online.

“I believe that I can achieve good results in the 100m butterfly at the Olympics and so I will work hard on that particularly during my training. My current record is 58.2 and I will work hard to make it 57.5 before the Olympics. I know it will be hard amid this tough competition, but rivalry always motivates me.

“I will compete in the African Games in Congo next month and then other championships in the USA. My coach will be arranging a joint programme for me and other swimmers travelling to the Olympics from the US and Spain.

“The programme will include more effort and concentration on these specific distances,” she added.

Weak points

Osman, who considers famous Egyptian swimmer Rania Elwany and the 100-metre butterfly world record-holder Dana Vollmer of the USA her role models, acknowledges she still has a lot of work to do to improve herself.

“Vollmer, the world record-holder with a time of 55.60, will be my prominent competitor in Rio. Fortunately, she is training with me in my university and she also encourages me. Preparing beside her could be a motivation to compete against her in Brazil,” the Egyptian champion said.

“Elwany is my idol in the Arab world and Vollmer is the international one. It will be an honour to repeat their achievements.

“I need to work on improving my start in the races and also making my underwater period longer and stronger,” she added.

Osman and her teammates arrived in Cairo late on Wednesday. She will have a short time to receive honours for her achievement in Kazan before leaving again for the US next week.

She expressed her delight with the warm reception at Cairo Airport.

“It was the first time that we got that attention from the media. A lot of people were waiting for us in the airport and that was great.”

With the Egyptian team on the radar next year at Rio, Osman hopes the promises of swimming federation officials to support them will be kept in the coming period.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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