Lawyer Abdallah eager to swim his way to Olympics

Kenya National Swimming team captain Issa Abdallah poses with past medals. [Washington Onyango,Standard]

Issa Abdallah describes swimming as a part of who he is.

The 25-year-old who is arguably one of Kenya’s best swimmers, Abdallah’s exploits are unprecedented both in Kenya and in the region.

In a career spanning 11 years, he has represented the country in multiple competitions, including the Commonwealth Games, African Championships, World Championships, All Africa Games, and Short Course World Championships.

However, the swimmer is not about to stop with his target being to represent Kenya in Tokyo Olympics next year, just like Jason Dunford did in 2008 and 2012.

“Nothing matches competing at the Olympics. It’s the world’s biggest stage ever for swimmers and to share the podium with other swimmers across the globe will be my biggest achievement,” he said.

After missing the 2016 Rio Olympics, Abdallah’s desire is to fly the country’s flag at the Olympics next year.

“I’ve always wanted to compete at the Olympics because it has always been my dream since I started swimming. I want to surpass my dad’s achievements. He made it to major global events expect the Olympics.”

Kenya has been granted two slots where they will send a female and a male athlete to the Tokyo games and Abdallah is keen on making his dream come true.

“My sole goal is to make it to the Olympics next year. I have worked my entire life to achieve this fete and I believe I will make it during the Kenya national team qualifiers,” he added.

Born in a family of swimmers, Abdallah started swimming aged three years, following in the footsteps of his father Abdallah Hemed Dola who represented Kenya between 1976 to 1990.

“While studying at Aga Khan Primary School in Mombasa, I was introduced to swimming by my father in 1998. I topped in all the junior swimming championships.”

From the age of six to 16, Abdallah won all the nationally held championships between 2001 and 2011.

“In 2006, aged 11, I made my first international debut in Zambia where I won silver. This made me work even harder as I believe I can win more.”

In 2011, while in Form One at Sheikh Khalifa Secondary School, he made his international debut for Kenya at the African Games held in Maputo, Mozambique.

“I finished 11th out of 24 which was a very good start as it was my first time in the national team. Again, the experience gained was key,” said the second born in a family of three.

Abdallah extended his dominance to the Kenya Secondary School games. He won gold medal during the Coast Regional Secondary School Swimming competitions (50m and 100m butterfly and freestyle) between 2012 to 2014.

Issa Abdallah in past action. [Courtesy]

He was also voted Brookside Best Swimmer during the inter-secondary national school games held in Kakamega in 2014.

He also represented Kenya at the World Junior Games held in Dubai in 2013, Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014 and the Confederation of African Aquatics (CANA) Zone 3 and 4 held in Zambia and Uganda in 2013 and 2014.

After high school, he got a swimming-study scholarship in Plymouth in England under the then head coach of the England swimming team Jon Rudd in 2015.

“Being in England helped me improve as a swimmer. It propelled me to compete in my first world championship in Kazan, Russia in 2015 during the 16th FINA World Championships, which was also the qualifying competition for the Rio Olympic games,” he said.

“The following year, despite being the best, I was not selected by the Kenya Swimming Federation to represent Kenya in the Olympics but I turned that disappointment to something positive by qualifying for the 13th FINA World Short Course swimming in Windsor, Canada in December the same year,” he said.

Studying in England, Abdallah participated at the England national championships from 2015 to 2019 and also participated in the annual Marenostrum Monaco Swimming championships usually held by the Prince of Monaco.

In 2015, he represented Kenya in the African Games in Congo finishing sixth and among the top eight ranked swimmers in Africa before going to the 2017 World Championship in Hungary.

He went to represent Kenya at the 2019 African Games where he registered personal best times of 23:62 and 25:02 in 50m freestyle and butterfly respectively and 52:6 in 100m freestyle.

He also registered a season best performance in 50m fly and 100m backstroke after clocking 25:12 and 1:01 respectively during the World Championships held in South Korea last year, the event that acted as a qualifier to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Kenya was to hold the national qualifiers to select the two players this month but that has since been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Abdallah will battle with Danilo Rosafio for the sole men’s spot as Emily Muteti and Mariah Brunlehner face off for the women spot.

Off the pool, Abdallah is a law graduate with a Master's Degree in Finance and Investments.