Oman’s long-distance swimmers make a mark

The year 2011 will be remembered as the best ever for the sultanate's swimmers as the long-distance team claimed its maiden title at the GCC level in April and then capped its strong performance by clinching the Arab team crown for the first time in October.

The decision of the Oman Swimming Association (OSA) to invest in its open water squad over the past couple of years seems to have paid dividends. The quartet of Khalid al Kulaibi, Mohammed al Habsi, Aiman al Qasmi and Musallam al Khadouri have all produced encouraging results at regional and Arab competitions.

“It has been a determined effort by the Oman Swimming Association to promote the long-distance squad over the last couple of years,” said Taha al Kishry, OSA chairman. “It all started when our boys began their preparation with an aim to perform well at home during the second Asian Beach Asian Games in Muscat in December 2010.

“They missed the podium against some top level competition, but the encouraging results (fifth place in team category, Kulaibi finished sixth in individual 5km event) at the Asian Beach Games gave us the belief that the continuous programme would yield results. We succeeded a few months later when the quartet clinched the team title at the GCC Championship in the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam.”

Kishry, who is also the director-general of the Asian Swimming Federation, said, “We are delighted at the team's performance this year starting from Dece-mber 2010 at the Asian Beach Games. It was a systematic appr-oach and our head coach, Istvan Kormos of Hungary, worked hard with the boys during domestic and overseas camps.”

It was only in late September that the team put in one of its best performances at the tenth Arab Swimming Championships in Algeria. Aiman al Qasmi led the team with a second place finish in the race, with Khalid al Kulaibi coming third and Moha-mmed al Habsi fourth. Tunisian swimmer Saifedine Esseghair won the individual 5km event, but Oman claimed the team title by filling the following three places at the Boukerdane dam in the Algerian city of Tipasa.

Qasmi, Kulaibi and Habsi also become the first Omani swimmers to break the one-hour barrier in the 5km race. Qasmi finished in 59 minutes, 18 seco-nds, behind winner Saifedine, who clocked 56:50. Kulaibi's time was 59:20 while Habsi finished fourth in 59:23.

Twenty-eight swimmers from 11 countries - Syria, Tunisia, Mor-occo, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Qatar and Algeria – entered the Arab championships.

Earlier at the GCC Open Water Championships in Dammam, the Omani swimmers completed a sweep by winning the individual and team gold medals in the 5km and 10km events.

Experienced Kulaibi claimed the individual gold in the 5km with a time of 1:01:02.50 and was followed by teammate Aiman al Qasmi in 1:01:47.94 to make it a one-two for the sultanate on the podium. Musallam al Khadouri (1:01:52.36) and Mohammed

al Habsi (1:01:53.03) finished third and fourth respectively. However, according to the competition rules, no country can claim all three podium places, so the bronze went to a Kuwaiti swimmer.

The competition drew participants from all six Gulf nations, with a total of 19 swimmers taking part in the 5km event. In the team event, Oman was on top in 3:24:02.80, followed by Kuwait.

The Omani quartet of Khalid, Aiman, Mohammed and Musallam returned after a day's rest to sweep the 10km race. While Musallam won in a time of 2:08:22.25, Khalid was second with 2:09:25.81, Aiman finished third with 2:10:12.98 and Musallam clocked 2:11:19.00 in fourth position. Again, the bronze went to a Kuwaiti swimmer. The

Omanis also bagged the team gold with a time of 6:28:01.04. The quartet also made their debut at the 14th FINA World Championships held in Shanghai in July. The swimmers finished down the order in the 5km and 10km events at the open water event held at Jinshan City Beach, but were more than happy to experience a world event for the first time.

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