Here at Nile Swimmers, we are obviously fans of swimming. We saw two news stories this morning which prompted a few thoughts.
The first was Singpaorian Joseph Schooling won GOLD by beating Michael Phelps, Chad Le Clos, and László Cseh who ALL got silver in the mens 100m butterfly. Joseph Schooling had competed at the Olympics before, in London 2012 – where things didn’t go so well.
Joseph’s swim cap and goggles were rejected just before the 200m butterfly heats for not meeting official FINA regulations. He got very flustered, and finished 26th overall, with a time of 1:59.18s. After the race, Schooling said Phelps had noticed the dejected Singaporean walking behind him.
Joseph told him what happened and they hugged and Phelps said, ‘You’re only so young, you still have a long way to go. It’s a learning experience so keep your head high and just keep moving on.'”
— Curtis S. Chin (@CurtisSChin) 13 August 2016
Joseph Schooling had first met Michael Phelps in 2008, as a young boy. He has described in interviews how meeting Phelps helped to make up his mind to go to college in the USA, so that he could train with American coaches.
The second was this one: Katie Ledecky
10 years ago: A 9-year-old named Katie Ledecky gets an autograph from Michael Phelps (Credit: Ledecky Family) pic.twitter.com/oOOPns5mor
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) 10 August 2016
Now 19, she is a sensational swimmer in the USA team. Both of these Olympic GOLD medallists already had an interest in sport, and swimming when they met their idol Michael Phelps – who was already a globally renowned swimmer. Both of these athletes have moved on and grown to become world champions.
But what of all the thousands of people who met Michael Phelps but DIDN’T go on to become Olympians? We will never know, but I’m sure that some of them will have been inspired to work a bit harder at their sport. Never underestimate the inspirational impact on a young child.
Bringing this back to Sudan, Abdelaziz Mohamed Ahmed (Azo) & Haneen Ibrahim were able to race at the World Championships in Kazan in 2015, and the Olympics Rio because of FINA’s Olympic Solidarity programme, which has funded much of their costs. An Arabic speaking Canadian coach came to Sudan to coach the national squad for a couple of weeks.
Sudan has only SIX athletes competing in Rio2016, TWO of them are swimmers. Undoubtedly, this will increase the profile of swimming (a very small sport) in Sudan. We have seen this in the UK after the success of iconic figures such as Tom Daley, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Steve Redgrave, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and many more. After the Olympic medals comes a surge in public interest.
We hope to see the same interest in Sudan, but for different reasons. With a surge in public interest around swimming, we hope that there will be more awareness of water safety, and that rather than seeing bigger teams from Sudan going to the olympics, we see more people positively engaging with the water in a safe way. We hope to see a higher profile for aquatic professionals, in particular Lifeguards – and that the standards of safety in swimming pools improve.
In particular, with a superbly professional performance from Haneen Ibrahim (she is only 16) we hope that other Sudanese women (young and old) see that women can swim, women can perform, and that women can take responsibility for their own safety in and around the water. #ThisGirlCan
Azo & Haneen have proudly represented Sudan, and the whole nation was cheering for them. Whatever happens next, it is a privilege to have such dedicated, committed, and friendly young people as instructors for Nile Swimmers.
They are both certainly an inspiration to the Nile Swimmers team.