Aug. 5, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Akaram Mahmoud swims fast, but he always thinks he can swim faster. That competitive spirit has allowed the rising junior to not only make a huge impact for South Carolina’s swim team, but it’s also giving him the chance to live out a childhood dream of representing his home country, Egypt, in the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I started swimming when I was five, so it’s been about 14 years that I’ve been doing this,” Mahmoud said. “I’ve been dreaming since I was a kid to be an Olympian. My goal now is not only to be an Olympian, but to get a medal for my country. If I don’t get it in Rio, then I will try in Tokyo (2020 Olympics) and the next one. My target is to get an Olympic Medal before I retire.”
Mahmoud will be competing for Egypt in the 400 meter freestyle as well as his best event, the 1500 meter freestyle. After just two years swimming for the Gamecocks, he already has a long list of notable awards and achievements. He owns the fastest times in school history for the 500, 1000, and 1650 freestyle events as well as the 800 freestyle relay. After becoming a member of the Gamecocks’ All-American 800 freestyle relay team as a freshman, Mahmoud earned All-America honors in three different races as a sophomore. Even with that success, Mahmoud admits he is never satisfied.
“Everyone wants to be better and better,” Mahmoud said. “Whenever I swim a great race or set a new record, I always go to (Associate Head Coach) Mark (Bernardino) and (Head Coach) McGee (Moody) and ask them what I have to do to make this time better.
“Our coaches have been working so hard with me. Coach Mark has been really helpful. He loves every one of us, and we love him. We trust him in practice, so whatever he tells us to do, we do it.”
Mahmoud admits he is a little nervous as the Olympics approach, but his coaches believe he has already shown that he can compete not only with the best in the SEC and NCAA, but also the best in the world.
“Last year at the World Championships in Russia, he ended up fourth,” Moody said. “Those are some of the fastest guys on the planet. So can he medal in this Olympics? We’re going to try to prepare him to do that. We’re shooting for a top-eight swim. If he can put himself in that championship final and put himself in a position to win an Olympic medal, that’s the big thing for him. There is a lot of good competition. I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of them work any harder than Akaram.”
“The dream of competing in the Olympics is a reality,” Bernardino said. “I think the one of the most important aspects of this is that he doesn’t just want to participate. He wants to compete. He wants to be one of the elite swimmers in this meet. So we’re doing all that we can to help him advance through the preliminary stages and get into the final eight at the games. That would be an incredible accomplishment for a 20 year old man in the early stages of his elite career. I’ve always said to Akaram, that if you can advance to the final eight, then you have a lane, and you have an opportunity. That’s saying a lot because he will be up against many veterans in the 1500 meter swim at this Olympics. But if you get into that final eight, anything can happen.”
Egypt has never had an Olympic medalist (in swimming) ... It’s an honor to work with Akaram and hopefully help him achieve that.
His coaches have praised Mahmoud for his unselfishness as part of the Gamecocks’ team, but they know that he and other swimmers have other goals as well.
“At the beginning of the recruiting process, these guys tell you what their goals are,” Moody said. “With Akaram, one of the first things he said is ‘I want to win a gold medal for Egypt.’ Egypt has never had an Olympic medalist (in swimming), and now they are staring two opportunities in the face with Akaram and a young lady named Farida Osman from Cal (University of California). It could be a huge year for their country. It’s an honor to work with Akaram and hopefully help him achieve that.”
While the Olympics offer Mahmoud a chance to step into the spotlight as an individual, he prefers to remain humble.
“Here, I have the best distance group in the country,” Mahmoud said of training with his South Carolina teammates. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them and Coach Mark and Coach McGee. I’m really happy here.”
“He is representing Egypt, and for him, this is of superior importance,” Bernardino said. “He is representing his country with all of his heart, all of his soul, and all of his being. I don’t know that an Egyptian male swimmer has ever made the final eight in the Olympics, so he might break a threshold for a nation, and that is more than representing the team.”
As the Olympics approach, standing on the podium would be a dream come true.
“It would mean the world to me,” Mahmoud said. “Every athlete dreams to be an Olympian. To get a medal for my country, and for it to be the first in swimming for Egypt, would be so special. I’m trying to do my best every day in practice, I’m just going to keep working hard and do my best, and we’ll see what happens.”
“His training has been spectacular,” Bernardino said. “I fully anticipate that he will swim faster speeds than he ever has in his life. So we’re going to hope for the best and enjoy the journey.”
The men's swimming events begin on Saturday, August 6, and run through Saturday, August 13.
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