The Maldives is a small but densely populated South-Indian nation comprising 1192 islands that are surrounded by the Indian Ocean. It is no surprise, with water visible from nearly every point in the country, that swimmers made up half of their 2016 Olympic team in Rio.
Those swimmers are being rewarded with the country’s first Olympic-scale 50 meter training and competition pool.
One of those swimmers, Aminath Shajan, is a 2-time Olympian, former Maldives national team member, and national record-holder in the 50, 100, 200, and 400 meter free and the 50 meter fly. At her second Olympic Games in 2016 she traveled to Rio for one event – the 100 freestyle – as a Universality selection. During the first heat of prelims on Wednesday she raced. Despite placing last in her heat, Shajan proudly set a new national record with her time of 1:05.71. At the South Asian Games in 2016 Shajan won the bronze medal in the 800 meter freestyle.
Currently, the Maldives national team trains in an indoor pool that is part of the Hulhumalé Sports Complex in Hulhumalé. This five lane, 25 meter-long pool does not meet the Olympic grade standards. These standards state that the pool must be 50 meters long, 25 meters wide (creating ten 50 meter-long lanes that are 2 to 3 meters deep.) Another main training facility in the Maldives is the Malé Swimming Track, a pool placed just behind the sea wall on the south side of their capital city of Malé that is separated from the rest of the harbor by a concrete barrier. Buoys and floating platforms construct the walls of this 25 meter pool, but they do not entirely separate the swimmers from wildlife.
In a 2016 interview with the Boston Globe, Shajan said, “We train in the sea. We train with all the trash and all the fishes and all the jellyfishes. Yeah, it’s really hard.”
She explained, “In order to improve our performances, we have to sacrifice a lot. We have to go abroad and train in different countries. For me it’s pretty easy now, but for the other swimmers in Maldives, it’s hard.”
These ‘floating tracks’ have become the standard for swimming competition in Maldives, even hosting national championship racing in them.
In parallel to the construction of a new pool, upgrades are being made to the Malé Swimming Track.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s promise to build an Olympic-sized pool during the 2018 Maldives election can change that and greatly improve training opportunities throughout the nation. In December of 2019, a landfill in Malé was cleared out and construction for this new pool began.
Shajan has since retired from the sport, but many Maldives national team members will benefit from this new Olympic-grade pool. At the Trials for Asian Games in 2018 in a 25 meter pool Hassan Ashraf, national record holder in the 50, 100, and 200 meter breast, took the meet by storm. He placed 3rd in the men’s 50 free (27.97), won the 50 breast (38.43), and won the 100 breast (1:18.52.)
On the women’s side at the Trials, Aishath Sausan won the 100 back (1:18.65), 200 back (2:55.63), 100 free (1:12.32), 50 free (32.29), 100IM (1:21.61.) She placed 2nd only to Anmau Ahmed Saleem in the 200IM with a time of 3:08.44 — a mere .18 seconds behind Saleem. At the World Championships in 2019 she broke Aminath Shajan’s 50 back record by half a second with a time of 35.41.
The Maldives’ new Olympic-sized pool will have ten 50 meter lanes and four 25 meter lanes for warm up space. Construction in Malé is scheduled for completion in December of 2020.
Images of the construction site of the new pool are below.
Aliás, a primeira piscina olímpica das Maldivas está sendo construída na capital, com previsão de entrega em dezembro. Terá 10 raias de 50m e 4 raias de 25m para aquecimentos e deverá ser aberta ao público.
O time nacional treina em uma piscina não-olímpica em Hulhumalé. (10/15) pic.twitter.com/BpkVGjU1Ek
— Surto Olímpico (@SurtoOlimpico) July 26, 2020