Abu Dhabi‘s Etihad Arena is gearing up to host the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) from December 16-22, bringing together more than 1,000 athletes from over 180 national federations around the world. According to the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the championships will also see the participation of top international swimmers and Olympic medalists from North America, Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. The female athletes competing amongst them while representing the MENA region are Farida Osman from Egypt, Layla Al-Khatib and Sara Akasha from the UAE, and Syrian athlete Yusra Mardini from the Fina Refugee Team. Read on to know more about them.
Farida Osman, Egypt
Also known as the ‘The Golden Fish’, Osman is the fastest female swimmer in Egypt and Africa, specializing in butterfly and freestyle swimming. After representing Egypt for the third time at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Osman aims to return “stronger, faster, and better,” at the upcoming championships. The athlete made history in 2017 as the first Egyptian woman to win the bronze medal in the 50 meters butterfly at the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Speaking to Vogue Arabia in a previous interview on the importance of representation in sports she said, “I would say to young Arab girls that please pursue sports. At the end of the day, it’s your journey, you’re in control of it. Just do whatever it takes until it becomes a reality. Commitment, discipline, sacrifice, patience.”
Layla Al-Khatib and Sara Akasha, UAE
Fifteen-year-old Al-Khatib was one of the first Emirati athletes selected to join the UAE national team for the championships. She is joined by Salem Ghalib, Sara Akasha, Ahmad Al-Marzouqi, and Mohammed Al-Hammadi, and Youssef Al Matrooshi who represented UAE at the Olympics. Al-Khatib has been competing in junior events since she was eight, and by 11, was competing in international events including the Jordanian Nationals, Arab Championships, and Asian Cup.
Fellow teenager Akasha is a gold medalist in the 200m freestyle at the Arab Swimming Championships. By participating at the upcoming championships, the 16-year-old aims to add to the number of her medals and achievements. In a statement, Sultan Al-Samahi, president of the UAE Swimming Federation, said, “The Emirati participation in the FINA World Swimming Championships, which witnesses the participation of the best swimmers from around the world, is a new achievement in the UAE’s journey, which celebrates its 50th anniversary. We are happy to see our ambitious youth during this championship in Abu Dhabi.”
Yusra Mardini, Fina Refugee Team
Mardini made headlines in 2015 when she escaped Syria’s civil war, swimming for over three-and-a-half hours to save the lives of over 20 people on a boat that was capsizing. Since then, resettling in Germany, the 23-year-old has competed under the IOC Refugee Team flag at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and this year, was one of 29 refugee team competitors at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She is also the youngest ambassador of the UN refugee agency UNHCR. ‘‘My goal in life is for everyone not to give up on their dreams,” Mardini said in a statement. “Even if it seems impossible at the time, you never know what will happen. I hope my participation in the upcoming championships does exactly that and inspires people to follow their dreams. Swimming saved my life, and it fills me with great pride to be able to represent the Fina Refugee Team and compete alongside some of the world’s greatest athletes.’’