BEIRUT: The opening ceremony of this summer’s Games is just six days away, and anticipation is reaching fever pitch. Katya Bachrouche, who is part of the biggest Lebanese mission to any Olympics (10 athletes will be competing), has spoken about her excitement as the buildup to the Olympics continues.
Bachrouche won six medals for Lebanon in Pan Arab games in Qatar last year, and she is continuing final preparations for the Games with her fellow teammate Wael Kobrosly in Le Havre, France.
During the Pan Arab Games, Bachrouche brought home four gold medals – in the 200-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle, 800-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medleys – but the greatest reward came after the Pan Arab Games when she learned that her times ensured her qualification for the London Olympics to compete in the 800-meter freestyle.
“I have been training nonstop all year, working very hard for the Games. I moved to Los Angeles in February and have been training with a team there with many swimmers who will be participating in the Olympics for many different countries,” said 23-year-old Bachrouche.
“I am currently in Le Havre, France training with my teammate Wael Kobrosly this week. We leave for London on Sunday,” she added.
Being at the Olympic stage is a very unique opportunity for any athlete, and Bachrouche says she couldn’t be more excited.
“Every day I get more excited to get to London. I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Olympics and cannot wait until the Games begin. It will be the experience of a lifetime,” she said.
The weight of expectations will be firmly felt by the 23-year-old when she takes to the stage starting July 27, since she was the most successful Lebanese athlete during the Qatar games in 2011.
Lebanon has not won an Olympic medal since 1980, when Hasan Charara nailed a Bronze medal in the heavyweight Romanian wrestling. However, Bachrouche has realistic goals for the up-and-coming event.
“Everybody asks me if I am going to win a gold medal in the Olympics, but most people do not understand how difficult that is to accomplish,” she said.
“Of course, no athlete goes to the Olympics and doesn’t want to win a medal – of course I would love to win a gold medal – but it is also important to be realistic.
“With swimming, we have a good idea of where we stand and what our chances of winning will be by looking at the times and rankings of each swimmer.
“Right now, I am not in a position to medal. But I do believe I can swim faster than I did in Doha. My ultimate goal is to swim my best time, achieve the ‘A’ standard of 8:33, and to move up into the top 16. It would be a dream come true to make it to the finals , but this will not be an easy task,” she explained.
Having grown up in the United States, the 23-year-old Lebanese competed at college level with the University of Virginia Cavaliers in four Atlantic Coast conference swimming championships.
But if she’s to keep representing “The Cedars,” especially with Lebanon hosting the next Arab games in 2015, Bachrouche will need more support, as she has been paying for her preparations out of her own pocket.
“I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish at the Pan Arab Games. The Olympics will be a much bigger challenge and I will have even more competition than I had in Doha. I hope that I will be able to make Lebanon proud again, whether or not I get a medal.
“In terms of encouragement and words of kindness, the Olympic committee has been very supportive. However I have to be honest, I have received no financial support at all from the Olympic committee. I had been promised support to cover the cost of training, living expenses, traveling to competitions, etc. but so far I have been paying for everything myself.
“Even when it comes to the actual Olympics I have not received any support – I paid almost $2,000 for my ticket to London myself with the hopes that I will be paid back by the Olympic committee.
“I have to say I am disappointed. It is very expensive to train as a swimmer and I don’t work because I am training full time, six days a week, two to three times a day.
“I am so happy and proud to be swimming for Lebanon, and I am dedicating my whole life to it, but if I am to keep swimming for Lebanon, something is going to have to change,” Bachrouche said.
Despite her disappointment over the lack of real support from officials, Bachrouche has nothing but appreciation for all the backing of the Lebanese people.
“I have received so much support from fans, friends and family – especially through social media – and it is very encouraging. I want to thank everyone for their support and for believing in me. I am so proud to represent you and our country,” she said.