Athletes begin battle with Olympics in sights

Published on: 13 February 2020

The world’s leading long-distance swimmers need formidable challenges to begin what is the Olympic year and tomorrow’s FINA Marathon Swim World Series at the stunning Katara Beach is set to provide the top guns with the perfect launching pad.

The season-opening meet featuring gruelling 10km men and women’s races offers challenging conditions, and a deep and tough field for swimmers from 34 countries.

This is the third time that Doha is hosting the meet, but the previous two editions were held at the waterfront Corniche.

QSA President Khaleel Al Jabir said Qatar – home to multiple major swimming events - would continue to host the competitions at the new venues as it build up for the 2023 FINA World Championships, the pinnacle event of the aquatics calendar.

“I would like to thank FINA for giving us opportunity to host event like this. We consider it as a test event as we prepare for the 2023 World Championships,” Al Jabir told a pre-event press conference held yesterday at the Katara Beach.

“I would also like to thank Katara for giving us this place. Katara has done a great job for us. We are ready to organise the event and I wish the best for all athletes in the competition,” he added.

For reigning world champion Florian Wellbrock, who will defend his Doha title, it’s going to be a tough challenge due to a drop in temperature.

“It’s going to be a difficult race,” Wellbrock told a press conference yesterday.

“I won the last race here and I am very happy to be back here. Last year we had water temperature of around 20 degrees and this time we have 16 degrees or 17 degrees so it could be harder to defend the title,” said the German star.

“Doha is a special venue for me because we can see buildings around the venue, we don’t have something like that in Germany,” he added.

The men’s race will also see 2019 overall champion Kristóf Rasovszky (HUN) vying against top-ranked athletes like Olympic champion Ferry Weertman (NED), Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA), Simone Ruffini (ITA), and veteran swimmer Igor Chervynskiy (UKR).

Qatar will be represented by Abdelrahman Hesham Mohamed and Ahmad Tarek A K Samara in the men’s race.

‘Doha field probably stronger in depth than Olympics’

The men’s marathon will see 82 racers in action while 54 female athletes will also make a splash in Katara waters in the first stop of 10-meet series.

FINA Technical Delegate John West, who also spoke at the press conference yesterday, said the competition will perhaps be tougher than the Olympics.

“Big teams from countries such as France are participating as we build up to Olympic qualifying competition. We have a large field for this event, 82 men and 54 women, and this competition is probably stronger in depth of the field than the Olympic Games,” he said.

“We want to thank from FINA’s perspective our colleagues in Qatar Olympic Committee and Qatar Swimming Association for their support and hosting this event on our behalf. Without their support and consideration we wouldn’t be able to run this series. The work, which we have done so far with the organising committee, is very good and we are looking forward to a very good competition on Saturday (tomorrow),” he added.

In the women’s race, 2019 overall champion Rachele Bruni (ITA) will be up against Rio Olympic gold medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) and defending Doha champion Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA).

Former European champion Arianna Bridi (ITA) will be the other main contender for women’s crown besides other star athletes.

“We have a tough field in women’s race but I am very excited to start the Olympic year in Qatar. Venue is different from last year but it looks really nice out there,” Anderson said yesterday.

Meanwhile, action at the Katara Beach will begin today when over 150 swimmers will take the plunge at Doha Open Water Challenge – a subsidiary event involving different categories – that takes place one day earlier from FINA Marathon, and features amateur swimmers of the host country.

There will be three categories available for the public in the Doha Open Challenge: 400m for boys and girls aged 11-14, 800m for boys and girls aged 15-17, and 1,200m for boys and girls aged 18 and over.

The races will start at 1pm after Friday prayers.