Guy Barnea - Sharon Bukov - 31072011
Guy Barnea: 'It’s something you train for and dream of for years.' Photo by Sharon Bukov
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After a disappointing championship, Guy Barnea is set to be the first Israeli to challenge for medals today, in the 50m backstroke final, after stopping the clock at 25.09 seconds. Only a few days ago, Barnea missed the Olympic criteria for 100m backstroke by a mere three hundredths of a second, but there was no stopping him in half the distance yesterday. Barnea, who won a bronze medal at the European Championships last year, was aware that the distance is not part of the Olympic menu, but had a point to make.

"All week long I know that I wanted a final, and believed that I could do it," he said. "The 50m race demands full concentration, everything has to be perfect. Usually when you reach this stage, one tends to forget everything and swim for your life. I knew that I would have to be really disciplined, focused and relaxed in order to make it. Every movement has to enter the water at a precise place, every movement counts."

This is the first world championship final in Barnea's career. "First of all, I looked up to the stands - I saw my teammates with flags, my friends from Berkeley [where he studies], and of course my parents, who were jumping up and down like crazy. My father really had to be calmed down. The Chinese crowd was also very excited; they saw how happy I was and were very supportive. It was a very powerful feeling, it's great to be at the very top of your field. It's something you train for, and dream of, for years. It's an achievement that's right up there, together with the semifinals in the Beijing Olympics and the medal at the European Championships. Something I'll never forget."

The 23-year-old Barnea opted for a new training schedule before the championships, focusing especially on mental maturity. "Now I'm much more focused and calm in the big events," he says. "In the last world championships I was very edgy, but now I'm already used to it. It's something that I planned for a long time, so it felt natural. It's not an Olympic event, but some of the best backstroke swimmers in the world are here, and swim the 50m. It's an honor for me to be up there with them, and it's a real pleasure to compete with them in the world championships."

Even though Barnea's time is the slowest among the eight finalists, Barnea is hopeful about his chances of landing a medal: "Making the final isn't enough. I want to surprise everyone from the eighth lane. If I swim as fast as the Israeli record with the suits (26.64 ), I could be competing for a medal, and that could really be amazing."

Fina asks Iran to explain Israel withdrawal

Iran faces possible punishment after one of its competitors pulled out of a world championships heat involving an Israeli, swimming's world body has warned. Executive director Cornel Marculescu said Fina, the international swimming federation, had written to Iranian authorities seeking an explanation for Mohammad Alirezaei's decision not to contest the men's 100m breaststroke heat in Shanghai.

"We are checking. I'm looking for the Iranian," Marculescu said on Friday, adding that he became concerned when he saw a statement from Iranian sports authorities. "There was a declaration ... that the policy is to boycott all events where Israel is swimming," he said. "We cannot accept this because our constitution says no discrimination by politics, by religion, by sex, nothing.

"Politics can be somewhere else. The pool is a place to do something else, but no politics. I've sent them a letter. We want to understand what happened," Marculescu added. Alirezaei and Israel's Gal Nevo were both listed for heat four of the 100m breaststroke last Sunday. Nevo clocked 1min, 2.32sec, the 45th fastest in qualifying, but Alirezaei did not start the race.

Marculescu said any allegations of wrongdoing could be brought before Fina's disciplinary panel. "We have to look carefully at what [happened] but we don't accept discrimination. It's in our constitution," Marculescu said. "We have a disciplinary panel. The rules are there, the sanctions are there. If something is wrong, we'll apply the procedure like anything else ... when we have all the information we will do whatever is necessary," he added.

Alirezaei also missed a 100m breaststroke heat involving an Israeli at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but said he was feeling unwell, an explanation that was accepted by the International Olympic Committee.