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Olympic hopeful Dervis goes back in the water

07:56 10 January 2008

by TOM HARVEY HACKNEY born and bred swimming star Dervis Konuralp has got back his hunger for the sport. After winning a total of 35 major international medals, the visually-impaired star took time out from swimming after the Athens Paralympic Games in 20

by TOM HARVEY

HACKNEY born and bred swimming star Dervis Konuralp has got back his hunger for the sport.

After winning a total of 35 major international medals, the visually-impaired star took time out from swimming after the Athens Paralympic Games in 2004 to concentrate on his university studies.

But Konuralp, who was diagnosed with the eye condition Macular Dystrophy Stargardt's at the age of nine, admits that two major factors prompted him to return to competitive action last year.

Konuralp, a member of the Tower Hamlets-based Bethnal Green Sharks Swimming Club, explains: "I'd been swimming competitively from 1996 for eight years, so in 2004, I thought I'd shift focus to my studies at university.

"But then the London Games were announced and the London Fields Lido (the only heated, Olympic-sized swimming pool in the area) also re-opened.

"With both being virtually in my back garden, it was like a Godsend and an opportunity I didn't want to miss."

Konuralp, a member of the Sharks since 1999, initially just wanted to test the water - quite literally - to see how he fared in 2007.

It couldn't have gone better - the 26-year-old broke the current record at the British National Champ-ionships and moved up to third in the world rankings.

He said: "I started training again and thought I'd see how I went.

"But it was great and made me realise there was life in the old dog yet!

"I got back in contact with my long-term coach Michelle Weltman, a former Israeli swimming record holder, and we sat down and talked about my goals and aspirations were.

"We came up with a plan and fortunately the plan worked. Hopefully the same will be true this year."

Konuralp, who lives in Central Hackney, is now bidding to take part in the forthcoming Beijing Paralympics, which are held later this year in the Chinese capital.

It would be the fourth time he has featured at a Paralympics after previously representing Great Britain in 1996, 2000 and 2004, the latter two of which he won bronze medals in the men's 200 metres individual medley.

The son of a Turkish Cypriot father and English mother, Konuralp has two chances to make the Games, with trials in Sheffield in March and April.

He said: "Hopefully it will be a big year for me. It's one that I'm hoping will be successful.

"The training and racing last year went well. To come back from semi-retirement to go third in the world rankings was a bit of a shock so it's just a case of knuckling down this year for the next nine months and seeing what happens."

Konuralp used his time out from competitive racing to promote sport and its benefits to young people.

He said: "During that time out after 2004 I really sat back and looked at what sport had done for me. It really gave me skills for life.

"I'm fortunate to have achieved more than most people have in their entire lives so I just wanted to give something back to my local community and hopefully inspire them to get involved in sport.

"We've got social issues going on with gang crime and so on and I see sport as not the answer, but part of the answer, to resolving these problems."

He added: "I just try and get kids to join a structured sporting club, not just swimming, instead of standing on a street corner with their friends trying to find something to do."

Of his impressive medal haul, Konuralp says there are three that he is most proud of.

He stated: "My first European Gold in 1997 means a lot to me. I was only 16 at the time and it was my first major achievement.

"Taking bronze in the Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000 was also great and then I won the World Championships in 2002 which was a really proud moment."

Konuralp will be 30 when the Paralympic Games come to London in 2012.

And while he ideally hopes to be competing, he insists he will be at the event in some capacity.

He said: "I'd love to be racing but I'll have to see how it goes. If I'm still in the world rankings and have the chance of a medal or a good placing then I'll be there.

"I've never competed in an international competition on home turf but I will be there in some role - be it an athlete, a coach, a mentor or even just holding the towel for someone!

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