As the London Olympics approach, a number of Estonia's best swimmers are training in the US.
For several of them, the coming season will determine whether to continue their athletic careers.
Finishing up his last semester at the University of California, Berkeley, Martti Aljand has enjoyed his most successful year yet. Just last week, he set a new Estonian record in 200m butterfly, in addition to six other records already in his name. “After the Olympics, I have to sit down and think things through," Aljand told ETV.
Aljand said he may be able to extend his US visa for another year, but it all depends on how much his coach can support him outside of the university team, which has around 40 swimmers and only two coaches.
The swimmer's older sister, Triin Aljand, who also attended college in the US, but later continued her career in Europe, said the decision is a difficult one. "The problem in the US is large training groups," said Triin Aljand. "But in Europe you can only find the right coach through acquaintances."
Another swimmer, Annika Saarnak, recently completed her studies at the University of Miami. She is now training alongside Martti Aljand at Berkeley, hoping to qualify for the 100-meter butterfly in the Olympics. “The new training will take some time getting used to," said Saarnak. "The coach and I have to figure out what is best for me since I am training alongside men."
Also training with Aljand and Saarnak, is Martin Liivamägi, whose results have been improving greatly.
But the qualifying times for the 2012 Olympics are stricter than they were four years ago in Beijing, where Estonia was represented by nine swimmers.