INTERVIEW: Egypt’s swimming prodigy Akram vows to emulate Mellouli Olympic glory in Rio

Ahmed Abd El Rasoul , Wednesday 12 Aug 2015

Egypt’s best ever swimmer, Ahmed Akram, speaks exclusively to Ahram Online from Russia after his record-breaking achievement at the 2015 World Swimming Championships

ahmed akram
Courtesy of facebook : Ahmed Akram

After registering Egypt's best ever performance at the 2015 FINA World Championships, swimmer Ahmed Akram has now set his sights on making it through to the Olympic hall of fame next year in Brazil.

“I thank God that I was part of this great achievement for my country and myself. Now I have to make an extra effort and concentrate more in the coming stage as my main target will be winning an Olympic medal in next year’s 1500m challenge in Brazil,” Akram told Ahram Online by phone from Russia.

Egypt’s team made a huge surge at the World Championships, breaking 11 national records with Akram and female swimmer Farida Osman being named Egypt’s best swimmers.

The 19-year-old swimmer, Akram, was the first ever Egyptian to qualify for the Men's 1500m final at the World Championships, just a day after Osman finished fifth in the 50m butterfly.

Akram finished fourth with 14:53.66m, 2.58 seconds behind third-placed Ryan Cochrane of Canada – a bronze and silver Olympic medalist in 2008 and 2012 - and 14 seconds behind winner Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy.

The newcomer also finished ninth in the 800m Freestyle and 10th in the 400m Freestyle, breaking two national records, but he was just warming up before producing his masterclass.

“I won the gold medal for the Men's 800m freestyle in my last participation in a tournament in Hungary. It was a good motivation but I can’t say I had any definite expectations.

“My main goal was to reach the 1500m final as I will be competing in that race at the 2016 Rio Olympics,” he told Ahram Online.

Akram qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics but is anticipating an intense year in the build-up.

“The African Games in Congo will be next month but I don’t know if I will participate because I might have to be back to the US. My coaches are working on a great program in preparation for the Olympics,” Akram said.

Egypt’s new golden boy hopes to emulate Tunisia great Oussama Mellouli, who won a host of world titles including a gold medal in the 1500m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the bronze in the 2012 London Olympics.

“I think because he competes in the same race {1500m}, Mellouli is a role model for me and I hope I can make similar achievements,” Akram concluded.

Akram is never concerned about the guy in the next lane because he is a man on a mission. “All competitors are the same to me. I don’t have in mind a main rival or opponent, I just focus on myself and my work to accomplish my goals.”

Living in the US

Despite being away of home for almost seven months, as he is currently a student at the University of South Carolina, Akram insists that trainings in the US is the same as in Egypt.

“The excellent preparation by the national team’s coach, Sherif Habib, is the secret behind my success in Russia. He has been my coach for more than two years now and I love working with him,” Akram explained.

“The training is the same in the USA, but one difference is the challenge of balancing studying and exercising. Habib always coordinates with my coach at the university and that makes it easier for me,” he added.

Habib helped Akram win the gold medal in the 2012 youth Olympics, making him the first ever Egyptian to win a gold medal. Back then he predicted that Akram was on the right track for the final in Rio and even for a place on the podium.

Akram has been on the rise since 2013. After making an impact in the World junior championships he said he was aiming for a medal at the 2014 youth Olympics. Then he eyed the final of the 2015 World Championships and now an Olympic medal. So far he has consistently met his goals. Let’s hope he will keep up the pace until Rio.

National pride

Akram and teammates will arrive in Cairo late on Wednesday. He will have a short time to receive awards and honors for his achievements in Kazan before leaving again for the US on 16 August.

For the first time in their history, since the establishment of the Egyptian Swimming Association (ESA) in 1910, 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.

“We had a good month-long training camp. We were completely focused as we were competing against the world and finally the national team delivered outstanding results; the best in Egypt’s history.

“We were facing a lot of pressure as everybody would be watching us compete against the world’s best,” Akram added.

Work has paid off, and now Akram and teammates will get well-deserved attention in a home that is fully centered on football and its eternal, and sometimes chaotic, rivalry between Ahly and Zamalek.

His home club Ahly expressed great delight after his achievement, announcing that an event will be held for him on Saturday.

The Egyptian Swimming Association (ESA) has also hailed the performance of the team that propelled them among the world’s elite.

“After the Kazan results, Egypt has finally become one of the world’s heavyweights in swimming. It's well-known that those placing in the top eight are considered the best swimmers in the world," ESA president Yasser Idriss told the Egyptian media Sunday.

Team Egypt will be on the radar next year at Rio.

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