When Akram Ahmed took victory in the 800m freestyle at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, he became the first Egyptian to win an aquatics medal in any Olympic competition. Now, the 19-year-old has the opportunity to make history for his country on the biggest stage of all.
Akram Ahmed, who hails from Cairo but trains in the USA as a scholar at the University of South Carolina, got his Olympic campaign underway in the 400m freestyle on the opening day of the swimming competition. But stamina is his strongest asset, and he rates the 1500m freestyle event towards the end of the programme at Rio’s Olympic Aquatics Stadium as his best chance of a medal.
A fourth-placed finish over that distance at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships – the best-ever result by an Egyptian swimmer in that competition – has given Akram the belief that he can challenge the best swimmers, and now he wants a place on the podium.
“It’s going to be a lot faster than when I finished fourth in last year's World Championships so I'll have to drop a decent couple of seconds to medal. But I've worked so hard over the last couple of months, I think I’m capable of doing that,” says Akram, who has been swimming around 60 miles per week in preparation for his Olympic debut.
“There’s nothing impossible,” he adds. “Our main target is to make the final of the 1500m and once you’ve made the final, everyone’s got a chance of a medal. My dream is to become the first swimmer to win an Olympic medal for Egypt.”
Standing in the way of Akram’s dream will be some familiar faces, including Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk, who finished just behind him in the silver-medal position in Nanjing. In fact, more than 100 swimmers who have appeared at a YOG will be competing in Rio – an incredible statistic, highlighting how the crucial platform and transition that the YOG provides is helping athletes to realise their Olympic ambition.
Other Nanjing starlets to look out for in Rio include Lithuanian superstar Rūta Meilutytė, already an Olympic champion in the 100m breaststroke, Chinese freestyler Shen Duo, who won six gold medals at the 2014 YOG, and local hope, Brazil’s Matheus Santana, who goes in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay.