It was a balmy Thursday evening but the excitement was at an all-time high at The American International School Muscat (TAISM). Most weeks, such a buzz at the school grounds on a Thursday evening would have been from the approaching weekend; but not today.
Things were a bit different: students, parents, teachers and coaches were all gathered around to do one thing – and one thing only – and that’s to cheer the participants taking part in the SAISA competitive swimming tournament in the school’s pool.
So, what is SAISA?
Well, SAISA represents the ‘South Asian Inter-School Association’, and the tournament is held annually over several athletic and non-athletic platforms.
There are roughly 10 schools involved with SAISA, of which nine teams – all prepared to take one another on – participated in competitive swimming last Thursday (and over the weekend) at TAISM. The teams were from Oman, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Other athletic activities in the SAISA league includes volleyball, soccer (football), basketball, tennis, track and field, and badminton. These events are ongoing in overseas schools.
Looking at the audience I realised that taking part in the SAISA tournament was more than just taking home the trophy; it’s a testament to the healthy competitive spirit inculcated in each of these students.
But before I could even realise, the gun went off, and six swimmers leapt into the pool. The swimmers fought exhaustion from the sun blaring down on them but they kept going in a bid to take on the 400m freestyle.
And what a spectacle it turned out to be. In a mere 1.02.89, Serena Lee, the captain of the TAISM Eagles, got the pole.
But that was not all: she also smashed a SAISA record; the elation on her face was evident.
“Today’s been a good day and I think we achieved a lot,” Serena said.
“We trained very hard and we (from TAISM Eagles) all supported each other, which is why we achieved what we did today.
“We all want each other to do very well, so we are hyping one another,” she laughed.
“The competition is fun and all our teammates are doing well. As captain that’s something I am looking for,” she added.
Serena’s efforts were further highlighted when she finished second in the 400m freestyle. She clocked her personal best of 4.55.54 – which was a whole 23.5 seconds faster than her previous best.
Another swimmer who beat his personal record was Agustin Krupka Buendia, another TAISM Eagles member.
“I beat my personal best by 20 seconds,” the second-place holder told me.
“I feel great. All those hours of training and hard work finally paid off,” the youngster beamed with pride.
And why not? With more than 175,000 metres of swimming during practice sessions and more than 5,000,000 metres of swimming as a team, it was only a matter of time before the results started clocking in.
In total, TAISM swimmers broke 196 of their personal best times and won 16 gold medals, 26 silver medals and 7 bronze medals. The swimmers also broke 31 TAISM school records and six SAISA records.
Overall, TAISM Eagles claimed the second spot among the nine competing teams.
Commenting on the league, Luther Rauk, the athletic director at TAISM, said: “SAISA’s been around a long time and it’s been a great league for us to be in. It’s a bunch of like-minded schools with similar philosophies.”
“There are six starting blocks today. Teams can get three entries into each race. And the computer organises their seed time. We then run multiple heats to get all nine schools’ kids into the six lanes in the pool.
“Everybody’s very good here and we’ve already heard a few SAISA records being broken,” he added.
“One thing I love about SAISA is that the children can get to know each other. We see a lot of the kids coming back and they get to build relationships with each other and the coaches.
“So, it’s a really unique situation in our SAISA league.”
Also impressive was the fact that the families of TAISM school students hosted contestants from other schools.
“The swimmers arrived on Wednesday and are staying with host families from TAISM families. The coaches are all hosted with our teachers,” explained the athletic director.
One student coming to Oman from Pakistan said: “SAISA gives us all an opportunity to meet people and form bonds with them.
“Yes, there’s a great competition going on. But I’m going home next week with a great story to tell and, maybe, with a few medals, too,” she laughed. ν