WADAD HACHICHOU /DOHA QATAR
FINA President Mr. Julio Maglione joined athletes to praise the Qatar Swimming Association (QSA), which is set to host the FINA/CNSG Marathon Swim World Series 2021 Doha at the scenic Katara Beach on March 13.
The season-opening meet, which will see the participation of around 100 long distance swimmers from 25 countries, will mark the return of FINA open water competitions after over a year, with COVID-19 pandemic forcing cancellation
The 10km event, being held under strict COVID-19 protocols, was launched at a video conference on March 11 in which QSA President Mr. Khaleel Khaleel Al-Jabir welcomed all the athletes and participants.
FINA Technical Delegate Mr. Andrea Prayer Galletti, Rio Olympics gold medalist Ferry Weertman (NED), last year’s Doha winner Leonie Beck (GER) and three-time Olympic medalist Oussama Mellouli (TUN) also spoke to the media.
Doha – home to FINA World Aquatics Championships in 2023 – has become one of the main stops for FINA competitions over the years, also staging the FINA Swimming World Cups since 2012 and FINA World Swimming Championships in 2014.
In a recorded message, FINA President Mr.Maglione said: “Everyone is excited for the race. I want to thank our host Qatar for their continuous support and help. This country is a strong FINA partner and we are always happy to be in Doha. We also enjoy the Qatari hospitality and take memories from this competition. I wish everyone good luck.”
Mr. Khaleel said his team put up a tremendous effort for the event, adding that he was confident of organizing another successful competition, which Doha is hosting for fourth consecutive year.
“We are happy to organize the event and it is my pleasure to welcome all the participants to Doha. I shall ensure you that we have taken all the necessary measures for your safe participation so that you can enjoy your performance,” the QSA President said.
“We like challenges. We are working very hard with the government, the Ministry of Public Health. I would also like to thank the foreign ministry and our colleagues at Hamad International Airport for their support. We are working very hard to make this event happen. We are happy to clear all theobstacles. Most important thing for us is that athletes find a place to compete in this Olympic year.”
Mr. Galletti said: “I would like to thank Qatar Swimming Association, Doha Municipality and sponsors for all the big force they spent in the organization of this event. This meet is very very important because it’s been a long time since open water event took place. This is the best leg of the marathon series and I am sure with the support of Organizing Committee and the FINA delegates we can have a very nice and safe competition.”
Competitive field ready for action
Both the men and women’s races will feature a competitive field of long distance swimmers. Weertman, who won in Doha in 2018, praised QSA’s efforts in staging the competition.
“It’s very nice to have the competition back. With all the testing and the quarantine in the room it feels pretty safe. I am very happy to race again. The water is a bit warmer than the last year so, I think the water is about 22 degrees so for me that was perfect conditions. The sun is shining and the water is nice and flat,” said the Dutchman.
“I am always racing to win. I will do my best to race but I don’t have idea in what shape the rest of athletes are as we have not been racing for such a long time but I am feeling pretty good,” he added.
African record holder Mellouli said Doha will provide a perfect stage for athletes as they prepare for Olympics qualifiers.
“I want to thank FINA and the QSA for organizing this event. I don’t remember the last time I raced in open water so it’s going to be cool for me to be in open water and take a crack in another marathon,” he said.
“It’s going to be interesting as a lot of swimmers entered the race. For me it is a stepping stone for my Olympic qualification. I am trying to qualify for my sixth Olympics this summer. I can’t imagine a better stage to get me prepare for Olympics Qualifier, which will happen in May,” the Tunisian star added.
Defending champion Marc-Antoine Olivier (FRA),Kristof Rasovszky (HUN) – gold medalist at 2019 World Aquatics Championships (5km) and Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) are among the leading contestants in men’s race.
Meanwhile, Beck, who defeated Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) to clinch title in Doha last year, expected a tough women’s race on Saturday.
“It’s a first competition for over a year and I am very excited to race again. I am very happy about it. There are lots of good girls like Ana Marcela in the race so it’s going to be tough. I am doing my best and hoping to defend my title,” the German star said.
Athletes will complete the 10km races in 5 laps (2000m each). The women’s race will start at 9am followed by men’s race, which will kick off at 1:30pm.