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Different folks who swim different strokes

World aquatics swimmers
The World Aquatics team after a session at Bond University 

One represents a nation where there are no Olympic-size pools, another saw his training base obliterated by a bomb during a civil war, while the oldest of the group cooked his first meal this week at the ripe old age of 30.

Five swimmers with dreams of competing at the Paris Olympics, each their nation’s best, have become flatmates and teammates at the Bull Sharks as the first cohort of the World Aquatics Training Centre established at Bond University.

They’re different folks who swim different strokes. 

Muhammad (Dwiky) Raharjo, Finau Ohuafi, Omar Abbass and Sajan Prakash will spend a year living in the Bond University Sports House and training under Olympic coach Chris Mooney.

The baby of the group, 17-year-old Lanihei Connolly from the Cook Islands, plans to stick around a bit longer having enrolled to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Bond.

Connolly may be the youngest but she might just adapt to life in Australia the quickest having grown up in New Zealand.

“We don’t have a pool in the Cook Islands so most of us swim elsewhere and I have done all my training in New Zealand,” she said.

“I used to be in New Zealand programs but I really wanted to represent my mother’s side of the family and swim for the Cook Islands.’’

All five have trodden unusual paths in search of their dreams which should make any athletes from established swimming nations think twice before grumbling about early morning training sessions.

Omar Abbass, 24, escaped the civil war in Syria with the help of a World Aquatics scholarship.

Omar Abbass
Omar Abbass enjoying the temperate Bond University pool 

Training throughout the conflict was tough on a good day. It eventually became impossible.  

Electrical outages and the shortage of fuel to run generators meant the pools could not be heated during winter in his hometown of Damascus’ where average temperatures range between 5C and 7C due to the city’s elevation.

“We’ve had good swimmers from Syria before but during the war it was very hard to continue that level of swimming,” he said.

“We had cold water because there was no fuel to heat it up, it was very cold, it was a good experience to prepare me for life, but to swim it was tough.

“I remember one time I was training in the pool at a big centre that had a hotel and a football field and they started attacking that area. 

“The first bomb hit the hotel and they moved everyone out and the second bomb hit the pool.

“It was crazy, we are lucky to be alive.”

Abass, Ohuafi and Prakash have been training together in Thailand since 2019 courtesy of World Aquatics. Throughout that time Prakash completed his training to be a police officer while Ohuafi tops up his living allowance with off-season work taking whale watching tours back home in Tonga.

“Swimming with whales is a really great experience,” he said.

“My whole life revolves around water.’’

Prakash is the elder statesmen and, as the only swimmer to have already competed at the Olympic Games, is the unofficial leader of the pack.

He may have represented India at the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Games but admits he is already learning new skills at Bond, in and out of the pool. 

Although his overall goal is to swim an Olympic qualifying time to reach his third Games, the first target was securing a pass mark from his hungry flatmates.   

Tuesday night was his debut in the kitchen. A quick zoom tutorial from a friend who is pretty handy in the kitchen, and he was away.

And the reviews on the group WhatsApp chat were positive, even scoring a perfect 10 from Indonesian Muhammad Dwiky Raharjo.  

“I have never cooked in my life and here I have to cook,” he said.

“I don’t know the first letters of cooking, last night was my first session, I cooked a chicken curry with rice and it came out well, the boys gave me a good review.”

Lanihei Connolly 

Lanihei Connolly

17

Cook Islands

Breaststroke

World Aquatics Short Course Championships, Pacific Games. 

“The squad has been so welcoming and the standard is so awesome, I hope by training with such great people to be able to elevate my swimming.’’

Finau Ohuafi 

Finau Ohuafi

22

Tonga 

Freestyle, backstroke, butterfly

World Aquatics Championships, Pacific Games.  

“This is amazing, it is a major step up for me and the coaches are great fun and very motivating, not like my other coaches who are strict and always yelling.’’  

Muhammad Raharjo  

Muhammad Raharjo

23

Indonesia 

Breaststroke

World Aquatics Championships, Asian Games. 

“I love the environment here, the team all push each other which is great.” 

Omar Abbass 

Omar Abbass

24

Syria

Freestyle 

World Aquatics Championships, World Aquatics Short Course Championships. 

“This is a lot more professional which is what I need to improve and it is a great team with some very nice people.’’ 

Sajan Prakash 

Sajan Prakash

30

India 

Butterfly

2016, 2020 Olympic Games, World Aquatic Championships.

“I believe this will be a life-changing experience for me.” 

 

 

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