By Steven V. Selthoffer, Chief European Columnist, Swimming World Magazine
CAIRO, Egypt, June 14. YES. That's right. Look over your shoulder. Team Egypt is producing world-class swimmers.
At the Belgian Open Championships in May in Antwerp, Egyptian Ahmed Akram Abbas, posted a 15:10.99 in the men's 1500m free… and he is only 16 years old.
The win moved Ahmed up to the top junior slot in the FINA global rankings and 15th in the world overall. Being Number 1 in swimming is a first for Egypt. And it's the first time Egypt has had a swimmer in the Top 20 in the world overall.
Guess who's behind the success?
Right. It's Sherif Habib. Habib left Dubai and the national and head coaching positions there to go back home to his native Egypt. Habib is one of a handful of ASCA Level 5 coaches in the Middle East. Success follows him wherever he goes. Correction. Habib makes success happen wherever he goes.
Habib has an eye for talent and a long-term view in developing swimming in a country. He isn't only concerned with developing results in one, two or within an Olympic cycle of four years with the national team swimmers, but, also focuses and implements specific programs to find and develop young talent in the juniors, then nurture them along.
No hype, just results
Akram's time and skill is legitimate. Habib doesn't hype anything. Akram has posted a respectable 1:52 200 FR, 3:57 400 FR, and also an 8:02 in the 800 FR. All under Habib, since Habib took over coaching duties there.
Michael Phelps' influence stretches to Egypt
Akram is a Phelps-inspired athlete and has been following his mentor and listening carefully. Akram said, “When I was young, I dreamed to be a world champion swimmer. And when I grew up, and saw the Olympic Games, then I also wanted to be an Olympic champion… I have no limits in my dreams and I want to (work hard, taking small steps to) be better every day.” Sound familiar?
Working hard, grinding it out step by step, day by day, is a natural aspect of any Habib training program. Habib knows how to design a world class swim and dry land program to bring out the results. He's done it before. He's doing it again.
Sub-15:00, this summer?
Habib did not mention it, but, breaking the 15 minute mark is on their radar screen in Barcelona World Championships or in Dubai for the FINA World Junior Championships in August. Going under 15 minutes would move Akram up to the top 6 currently in the world rankings overall.
It isn't easy training in Egypt with the unrest and government turmoil which makes Akram's accomplishments even more amazing. Training tables? Large budgets? Top corporate sponsors? They're non-existent. It's been difficult for everyone emerging out of the political turmoil of the uprisings and the Arab Spring.
But, Habib messaged, “I hope to do something great for my lovely country Egypt.” Well, Habib and Akram are on their way.
The results should give a positive and much-needed boost to Egyptian pride and national solidarity. The swimming results have never been done before in Egypt. No one can deny it. It's world class.
This summer in Barcelona or Dubai, Habib and Akram will hopefully give Egypt something to really scream for joy about. We're following this story.
There's more to come….