She did it! Algeria open water swimmer Souad Cherouati has qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after an outstanding performance at the FINA Olympic marathon Swim Qualifier, in Setubal (POR). On June 19, 2021 she became the first-ever to represent Algeria in this particular event.
The 32-year-old clinched the only African quota left for the very selective race in which only 25 women will take part.
“My qualification is a small part of Algeria’s swimming history now. I was very proud to be the first Algerian woman swimmer to qualify. No one has ever accomplished this before in the Marathon Swimming event.”
“It is a big honour for me to be the first one to represent Algeria at the Olympic Games. Especially because the qualification opportunity only takes place every four years. It is your one shot. If you miss it, you don't go to the Olympics and only 25 women in the entire world can grab a spot,” Cherouati says.
It is a big honour that I have achieved this goal because it is not open to everyone. The race is a short window to do your best so I was very happy to qualify.”
Based between Paris (FRA) where she lives and Lisbon (POR) where she trains with the National Team, Souad Cherouati was born in Algeria in 1989. She took on swimming at a young age, encouraged by her brother, Mohamed Cherouati, a key player in Souad’s success story.
“I want to thank my family, especially my brother because he has always been by my side and supported me all the way through. He is the one who pushed me to start open water, he was with me from the very beginning.”
“He was helping with the feeding and the race strategy. Algeria can thank him, and I owe him my Olympic qualification. He holds a big part in my sporting career because he did all the hard work in the back,” Cherouati says.
Another two swimmers will represent Algeria at the Olympic Games (swimming pool); Oussama Sahnoune in the 50m and 100m free and Amel Melih in the 50m free, but growing up, Cherouati was hugely influenced by Tunisian Oussama Mellouli’s performances, as did a whole generation of young sporting talents in the African continent.
“Oussama Mellouli, as an Arabic and African swimmer, is the best, a perfect swimmer to me. He was always one of my biggest inspirations. In France, I also looked up to Laure Manaudou who also trained with Philippe Lucas, just like I did when I completed my degree. She inspired me a lot too.”
“Open water is becoming more and more popular in Africa. The continent always had great swimmers such as Mellouli, but also in South Africa and Egypt for example. I hope in the next few years we will see more swimmers from Africa at the World Championships and at the Olympics.”
A confirmed swimming pool athlete, Cherouati took part in the 2017 and 2019 FINA World Championships in the 800m and 1500m events. She explains how she transitioned to the open water discipline.
“I used to swim in swimming pool because I used to study chemical engineering, so I didn’t have a lot of time to practice in open water. When I finished my studies I started training with Philippe Lucas, the coach for the Open Water French National Team, and he introduced me to open water in 2016, right after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Before this, with my studies, I did not have time to train twice a day.”
Despite this late switch, Cherouati admits she doesn't have a preference for one or the other discipline.
“I also like competing in the pool because both disciplines complete each other, in my opinion. I don’t have a preference for one or the other and I really enjoy both. So when it is time to race in the pool, it is good, I enjoy it and vice-versa. It is completely different!”
With less than a month to go for the Olympics this is how Cherouati gets ready.
For me, there is no pressure because I don’t have a huge experience and background in the 10km event and in order to be a great open water swimmer you need a whole lot of experience.”
“It is only my first Olympic Games and I have not competed in a lot of races in the past two years. Actually, I hadn’t swum a 10km since 2018, this is why I was very happy because it means that despite my lack of experience and practice I can still swim fast and clinch a qualification. So there is no pressure because it will be a big first experience for me. I just want to do the best I can, to race my best in Tokyo.”
“I want to get the best position I can in the ranking. The higher I am in the ranking, the happier I’ll be. My goal is just to race the best I can and touch home the fastest I can,” Cherouati says with determination.
Cherouati is coached by Ricardo Santos of Portugal and has adapted her schedule to maximise her chance in Tokyo.
“As we don’t have much time left until the Games, it is not the moment to train heavily or hard or make big changes. I train normally without any changes, I practice two hours in the morning and 1.5h in the afternoon. We do small cycles of work, nothing big. We are so near to the Games, we qualified so last minute,” she says.
“After the Games, I might take two to three weeks off. And then we have the Arabic Championships and then the African Championships. I will definitely rest, I need to rest after the Games.”