June 4, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
They're teammates for South Carolina's swimming and diving team as well as the Egyptian national team, and they both want gold. Rising senior Marwan El Kamash and rising sophomore Akram Mahmoud will represent Egypt at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The two are good friends, but once they hit the water, they're all business.
"They are absolutely fierce competitors," South Carolina head coach McGee Moody said. "They're very good friends out of the water. Akram told me `we're really good friends out of the pool, but when we race, I don't know him.' It's an interesting dynamic because they both feel that way. They will train together and push each other every day. They do everything together, but when it's time to race, they don't know each other. They want to beat each other. Both guys are relatively quiet and kind of shy, but they race in a big way."
El Kamash and Mahmoud qualified for the national team this spring at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Charlotte. El Kamash qualified in both the 200 and 400-meter freestyle, and he holds the Egyptian record in both events. Mahmoud qualified in both the 400 and 1500-meter freestyle, setting an Egyptian record in the latter at the Arena Pro Swim Series.
"I wasn't really focusing too much on making the Olympic team at this meet specifically, but I was really happy," El Kamash said. "I came up with two A-cut times in my races, which is under the Olympic standard. When I came here to South Carolina, my goal was to make the Olympic team. I was super happy. Jumping and crying isn't really me, but it was the best feeling in my life so far."
"It's an honor for me to represent Egypt," Mahmoud said. "I have worked so hard in practice, and this was our target. Now I can focus on next year to practice harder and achieve our goals."
The friendship between the two has helped them in their preparations for collegiate and international competition.
"Marwan and I are great friends," Mahmoud said. "I have known Marwan for five years or more now, and I'm so proud that we are training together to encourage each other and push ourselves."
"We practice every day next to each other, so it feels great that all of the hard work we did in the pool together paid off," El Kamash said. "We're pretty close. It's really special."
Moody acknowledges that their history of working together and also competing against one another has elevated their careers.
"Swimming is big in Egypt, so they're like rock stars there," Moody said. "Whenever they would go home and compete in a race against each other, it was big news and all over the Egyptian Sports Network. Honestly, Akram came here because of Marwan. The two of them getting to train together on a daily basis is a big deal. They embrace the other guy being there next to him every day trying to make each other better. It's a unique friendship."
We practice every day next to each other, so it feels great that all of the hard work we did in the pool together paid off.
Their success is not surprising to the South Carolina coaching staff, and having the opportunity to represent their homeland at the Olympics can certainly give them confidence.
"I think Marwan even surprised himself a little bit at the meet in Charlotte," Moody said. "His time in the 200 freestyle would have been in the top 16 at the last Olympics. That's a goal of ours. We want to have our swimmers compete in the second race - the semifinals - at the Olympics. The big thing for Marwan is that now he sees he can do it. He broke two Egyptian records, which is great. He comes from a swimming family, and they're used to success. Akram has come into the program and had a fast start. He's our record holder in the mile now. He has posted a top twenty time in the world for the 1500 freestyle."
The duo will have the opportunity to fine-tune their skills by competing for Egypt at the FINA World Championships July 24 through August 9 in Kazan, Russia. El Kamash and Mahmoud are quick to point out how being a part of the South Carolina program helped prepare them for the international competition.
"The coaches and the team here are always supportive, no matter what," El Kamash said. "Even if you are having a bad day, they cheer you up and keep you going. Now I'm trying to focus on the World Championships. That can help build up my motivation and confidence going into the Olympics."
"(Associate Head) Coach Mark Bernardino is a great coach too, and I think in the next couple of years we'll be even better," Mahmoud added. "He encourages us to be better and better each day and to represent our country in the best way."
The Olympics are still a year away, but these two Gamecocks are already looking forward to soaking in the entire experience.
"It's the great experience between the athletes of every sport, not just swimming athletes only," Mahmoud said. "You get to go and encourage each member of the national team. There's a lot of pressure on me because I have to do well for my university. I am representing the University of South Carolina and Egypt, so I have to be great. I have to train harder and harder this summer when I go back home to be in the best shape, and I know Marwan will be in the best shape too."
"I'm really excited to experience and see everything at the Olympic village," El Kamash added. "It might be fun to see the track and field (events) and something like that. We'll get to see really good athletes at the opening ceremonies as well, so it will be a really good experience. My teammates at South Carolina have said they will be cheering for me on TV, so it really means a lot to me."
South Carolina swimmers are not strangers on this stage as El Kamash and Mahmoud are the 10th and 11th Gamecocks to represent their respective countries in the pool at the Olympic Games, and Moody said he and his staff are hoping to have a lot to cheer for in Rio.
"It's big for us, and it's big for Egypt too," Moody said. "We're proud of these guys. Now the goal is to see how much we can achieve along the way. We try to create a daily environment where they are working as hard as they can every day to see these goals realized. We're not done either. We've got a couple of other guys we want to see on their national team. Our goal is to surround our people with people who have like-minded goals. We're going to work every day to help them reach those goals and elevate the rest of the program along the way."
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