Young Turkish swimmer ready for baptism of fire

Young Turkish swimmer ready for baptism of fire

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Young Turkish swimmer ready for baptism of fire

Swimmer Hazal Sarıkaya (L) speaks with Mark Spitz, a sports hero, during an Istanbul event. Sarıkaya will compete in the 100-meter backstroke event at the Olympics. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

The Olympics are the ultimate target for most athletes. For some, however, it can just be a giant leap in the early stages of a career. Young swimmer Hazal Sarıkaya might fall into the latter group.

Sarıkaya, who will turn 16 in September, is the youngest member of Turkey’s 116-athlete squad heading to the London Games.

“I am very happy and excited; the London Games can’t come soon enough!” she told the Hürriyet Daily News. “It has always been a great dream for me, so I should say I am not fully aware of the situation right now. I think I will be all the more excited when I enter the venue, see the stars in the same pool as me. … I hope I don’t faint!” she joked.

Career hopes

The young swimmer will compete in the 100-meter backstroke event at the Olympics and will try to make her games debut in the best possible way. However, combining the excitement and enthusiasm of a teen with mature self confidence, Sarıkaya knows that this might be just the first step in what is expected to be a long and prolific career.

Sarıkaya already holds three national records in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, and was also part of the 4x100-meter relay team that set the Turkish record in the European Championships earlier this year. There is little wonder why international swimming critics see her as one of the world’s most promising swimmers of her generation.

Sarıkaya, however, is not feeling any pressure from the expectations. “I don’t feel stressed at all,” she said. “My club, FMV Işık, and my family have given me so much love, put so much effort into me. I just want to pay them back.”

Last week Sarıkaya participated in a press conference where she met Mark Spitz, whose seven-gold medal haul in the 1972 Munich Games was not broken until 2008 by U.S. compatriot Michael Phelps.
Spitz said he was proud that his 1972 achievement “had inspired a boy that was yet unborn,” and later in the day Spitz told the Daily News that previous sporting heroes of his country had played a part in his sporting adventure as well.

As Turkey is a country with little swimming tradition, Sarıkaya names Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin as inspirations, admitting that she could not find many national figures to look up to when she fell in love with the sport. But she is not pessimistic.

“Turkish swimming is on the rise. For example, we were all happy with the success of Burcu Dolunay [who will swim in the 50-meter freestyle in London]. It is the first time that we have been to the Olympics with such a strong squad, with good times,” she said. “Every achievement will be an example for the future. Maybe we can be examples for future athletes.”

Six swimmers for Turkey

Turkey will have six swimmers in London. Apart from Sarıkaya and Dolunay, Dilara Buse Günaydın will swim in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke event, while in the men’s competition, Derya Büyükuncu will be the first swimmer in Olympic history to compete in his sixth Games. Boy sensation Ediz Yıldırımer and Kemal Arda Güral round out the swimming squad.

Starting next week, Sarıkaya will probably have the most exciting moment of her life. But if all goes to plan, this will be just the first step.

“I will try to represent my country in the best possible way,” she said. “I will go there, swim, live in that atmosphere, watch the races. Those experiences will be like an education for me. They will help me, hopefully, in 2016 or 2020.”

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