Doha 2024: Oleksii Sereda – winning during the war and delight at Tom Daley’s return

Credit to: European Aquatics

By Nick Hope
Aquatics correspondent in Doha

“I miss the time before the war,” admits European champion diver Oleksii Sereda. “Life back then was really easy for me, but now in one moment I can lose everything.

“When you go to sleep you can hear the sound of shells flying above your house, you can see them as well and then there are the sirens which mean you have to get up and find somewhere (safe) because of the air alerts.”

The 18-year-old’s story – and situation – will seem startling to most outside Ukraine, but for those living in Sereda’s homeland the threat almost becomes ‘normalised’.

“You can go to training and die,” he tells European Aquatics with a shrug.

“When the war started a shell hit my house in Mykolaiv. I was lucky because I was not there and my father went to be with a friend. If he was in the house he would just die.

“It’s strange and it’s hard because you can’t plan for the future, but this is like it is.”

FIGHTING FOR UKRAINE BY PUSHING FOR THE PODIUM

Credit to: European Aquatics

Sports competitions may, to many, seem somewhat insignificant in light of the plight faced by Ukraine’s athletes.

However, Sereda – who is preparing for the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, which run from 2-18 February – feels they now take on even greater significance.

“When you put on your Ukrainian clothes (team kit) you have to participate well, you have to show what you can do and give everything for your best result,” he states.

“Yes, you feel pressure because you are not just participating for yourself, you are doing it for your country, but that is what we can do.

“When you achieve some medals or get tickets for the Olympic Games you are proud of yourself because it feels like you are helping to end this war.

“It’s maybe a really, really small part, but I think it helps.”

SUCCESS DESPITE STRUGGLES AND PRESIDENTIAL RECOGNITION

Credit to: European Aquatics

After the escalation of the conflict with Russia and the outbreak of war in early 2022, Sereda initially fled with his sister and mother to Slovakia, before joining his diving team in Germany.

During that period and despite the challenges, the teenager went on to claim individual European gold and two synchronised silver medals, as well as World synchronised silver.

Following the Budapest Worlds, in the summer of 2022, Sereda moved back to Kyiv and over the subsequent 12 months secured two European Games titles and another World silver.

He also earned places at the Paris 2024 Olympics in both the individual and synchronised 10m events for Ukraine.

The diver – and several of his team-mates – were subsequently rewarded for their achievements at a reception with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He stated their successes represented a “great element of motivation” for Ukraine and were an “integral part of the pride of our Motherland.”

“It was the second time in my life that I met him and he shook my hand and gave me a medal,” recalls the teenager.

“He gave a speech about how important sport is and I listened to him carefully because we are proud of our president.”

Sereda continued: “He is doing a great job to help our country as much as possible and we are trying to follow him and do all we can as well.”

THE OLYMPIC SEASON BEGINS AT DOHA 2024

Credit to: European Aquatics

The 18-year-old will enter the 2024 Worlds in Qatar in a strong position as unlike many of his rivals, Olympic qualification is not on the line.

“I already have two tickets for the Olympic Games, but of course it’s an important event still because it’s a World Championships and for me it’s the start of the season and I have to show a great result,” Sereda tells European Aquatics.

SEREDA EXCITED BY TOM DALEY’S RETURN

Credit to: Bruce White/Scottish Swimming

British Olympic champion – and three-time World gold medallist – Tom Daley has not competed at a major event since victory alongside Matty Lee at Tokyo 2020 and was widely expected to formally announce his retirement last year.

However, the 29-year-old, who will turn 30 in May, announced a surprise comeback plan late last summer and after winning gold at the British Diving Cup in December, will now line up for Britain in Doha.

“Tom Daley is a legend,” states Sereda, before adding with a smile: “I hear he only wants to compete in synchro now, so that’s great for me as I have less competition (individually).

“Tom Daley is a great diver and a great person and I look forward to seeing him again.

Commenting on his own prospects in Doha, Sereda continued: “I have to see what I can do after all my preparation, and then just decide what to do better or what to do less.

“Maybe improve my physical condition or improve my co-ordination skills (ahead of Paris 2024), but this is a great chance to see what I can do.”