Major investment needed to take record-breaker Persaud to next Olympics – Coach

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By Akeem Greene

Swimmer Aleka Persaud, who turned 15 in February, became the youngest Guyanese ever to compete at an Olympic Games when she swam the Women’s 50m Freestyle in Tokyo on Friday morning.

While her second-place finish in Heat Four was not fast enough to qualify for the semi-finals, Persaud shattered the National Record she set in June.

Her time of 27.76s eclipsed her previous best of 28.10s, which had replaced the 28.15s held by another Olympian, Brittany van Lange, since March 2014.

According to FINA (International Swimming Federation), Persaud also holds the long course National records in the 100m Butterfly (01:08.52s) and 200m Medley (02:42.42s), all accomplished when she was just 13-years-old at the 2019 CARIFTA Championships in Barbados.

Persaud along with Andrew Fowler qualified to the Games via the Universality spot as they were the two highest-ranked Guyanese female and male swimmers. 

With the next Olympics just three years away in Paris, her Coach Sean Baksh is adamant that for Persaud to steadily improve and gain an automatic qualifying time, which for this Olympics was 24.77s, there must be a considerable investment to give her the necessary high-performance training.

“She needs major investment to take her to the next Olympics,” Baksh told the News Room Sport on Friday morning.

“We have a development plan for her in place (her parents and I) that will need a lot of finance as it entails travelling a lot to high-level training camps and meets and meeting her nutritional requirements along with equipment among other things.”

Aleka Persaud’s coach, Sean Baksh

Persaud’s father, Ivan Persaud, is a former President of the Guyana Amateur Swimming Association.

To further underscore the difference in time currently with the elite swimmers, Persaud’s Heat was won by Judith Meauri of Papua New Guinea with a time of 27.56s, but she also did not secure a spot in the semi-finals.

The athletes with the 16 fastest times made the cut for the next round.

The fastest qualifier to the semi-finals was Australia’s Emma McKeon with an Olympic Record of 24.02s, while the 16th spot went to Femke Heemskerk of the Netherlands with 24.77s.

The World Record sits at 23.67s, set by Sarah Sjoestroem of Sweeden in July 2017.

Overall, Persaud’s time in the qualifying rounds was ranked 55 out of 81 swimmers

Aleka Persaud finished second in her Heat, but was the first female from Guyana to dip below 28 seconds in a long course 50m Freestyle

As an aside, at age 17, Lydia Jacoby, one of 11 teenagers on the U.S. swimming team, won the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday in a race, she would not have been in had the pandemic not postponed the Games by a year, according to USA Today.

Youth dominated the women’s street skating competition as the gold, silver, and bronze medallists were all under 17, led by gold medal winner and 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya.

Also at age 13, silver medallist, Rayssa Leal was already one of the youngest competitors in Tokyo. Had she won gold, she would’ve been the youngest gold medal winner in Games history.

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