The IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships heralded a new and glorious dawn for three Emirati athletes, who successfully qualified for the Rio Paralympics 2016.
The line-up includes wheelchair racing champions Mohammed Al Hamadi from Sharjah and Salim Al Shehhi from Ajman, along with Discus ace Siham Al Rashidi from Dubai.
MOHAMMED AL HAMADI
Discipline: Wheelchair racing – T54 category
Asia Oceania Championships Result: 4 Gold Medals (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m)
Wheelchair racing star, Mohammed Al Hamadi had already qualified for Rio after a Qatar competition last year, but consecutive victories at IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships held at Dubai Police Club cemented his status as one of the region’s pre-eminent wheelchair athletes. Al Hamadi won four gold medals for the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m.
“I am very happy with the outcome and I trained night and day for this. I had to face many challenges while training, but I managed to come out on top so I am happy and I will work even harder for Rio,” Al Hamadi told Sport360 through an interpreter.
Al Hamadi suffered from Cerebral Palsy when he was young, which rendered him paralysed from waist down, but through rigorous training he was able to develop the core strength that has made him one of the strongest contenders to represent UAE at the Rio Paralympics.
“We are very happy with his performance, Mohammed is participating in the next competition in Sharjah for the Fazza International Tournament, and will take part in other international events to gain more experience,” said Iman Al Muhairi, general secretary of UAE PAralympic Federation.
SALIM AL SHEHHI
Discipline: Wheelchair racing – T34 category
Asia Oceania Championships Result: 2 Gold Medals (100m, 200m), 1 Silver Medal (400m)
Seventeen-year-old Salim Al Shehhi was a first-time entrant in an international wheelchair racing tournament but incredibly managed to win two gold medals in the men’s 100m and 200m, and also bagged a silver medal in the men’s 400m race.
Salem Al Shehhi was the youngest competitor at the championship – he has to juggle training with his school studies – but remarkably managed to qualify for Rio at the first attempt.
“I had this disability since birth and it’s really difficult for me to train,” Salem told Sport360. Because I have school, but I go to the Club (Al Thiqah Club for Handicapped in Sharjah) every day, following the advice of my friend (Al Hussani), who took me around the club and introduced me to the sport and I fell in love with it.
SIHAM AL RASHIDI
Asia Oceania Championships: 1 Silver Medal
Discus thrower Al Rashidi suffered from a Polio attack at the age of six months and despite having surgery, she was still confined to a wheelchair.
After spending hours training at the Dubai Club for Disabled, Al Rashidi – who started off practicing javelin – perfected her discus technique and at the IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships secured her spot at Rio.
“I trained twice a day every day for the championship because I switched my expertise from Javelin throw to discus,” the 33-year-old told Sport360, communicating through an interpreter. “I am happy that all that hard work paid off and I am incredibly happy that I will get to represent UAE on such a huge platform.”
Her coach Fatima Toumi expressed great delight in Siham’s performance and commended her dedication to the sport, despite also having an eight-year-old son to take care of.
“Siham has proved herself through this tournament and even though she has a son, she still remained focus on giving her best,” said Fatima. “I don’t understand why Siham is considered disabled athlete, she is as mentally and physically strong as any normal person.”
London 2012 was arguably the most memorable games of all time but the reputation of athletics has been severely muddied in the intervening four years, with Russia currently barred from competing in Brazil in eight months’ time.
Having taken over the IAAF presidency in August 2015, Coe was behind the sport’s governing body indefinitely banning Russia from competition in November after World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused Russian officials and coaches of covering up widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes, including London 2012 medal winners.
Speaking at an appearance at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in the UAE yesterday, however, Coe is confident that the magic of athletics is what Rio 2016 will be remembered for.
“No I don’t think the scandals will cast a shadow over the Olympics,” said the four-time Olympic medalist.
“The Olympics is a fantastic opportunity for our sport to showcase clean athletes. London was a great opportunity and before that Beijing.
“We have great Olympic Games and track and field is the number one Olympic sport so it is our responsibility to showcase our sport in the best possible way.
“I’m confident the pureness of the sport will shine through in August, that’s our objective. It’s why we do what we do at the federation. Always to protect clean athletes.”
Since assuming the role of IAAF chief, Coe has not had an easy ride and has attracted his critics, but he is defiant when he says he will not shy away from the issues plaguing athletics.
“It’s a big job, but I’m not shying away from it,” said the 59-year-old.
“I’m pleased I’ve got some very, very good quality colleagues who are part of that change process as well and that’s how we will look at this next year.
“We’re making a lot of changes. I’ve got great support from my council colleagues like (UAE Athletics Federation president) Ahmed Al Kamali.
“Our objective is to change the way we do things and also to bring trust back, both to the federation and to the sport. Primarily we want clean athletes to know that we are going to create systems for them that they can trust in.”
Coe’s fellow Briton Paula Radcliffe has also had her reputation tarnished since being named in a Sunday Times report last September as one of 5,000 endurance athletes who had recorded suspicious tests.
Radcliffe, the women’s marathon world record holder, was exonerated by the IAAF in November and cleared by the World Anti-Doping Agency of any wrongdoing earlier this month.
“It is of course very important and good news, and we must be very careful never to play fast and loose with the reputations of clean athletes, that is part of our task,” said Coe.
Team Abu Dhabi Racing Black Falcon were forced to retire their Mercedes AMG GT3 from the 11th edition of the Hankook 24H Dubai on Friday night denying Khaled Al Qubaisi his latest hat-trick attempt.
Led by Al Qubaisi, the team comprises of Dutchmen Jeroen Bleekemolen and Indy Dontje and German duo Maro Engel and Hubert Haupt, and saw their race end on lap 119 at Dubai Autodrome.
Bleekemolen opened the campaign for the Abu Dhabi outfit from fifth on the grid in class, steadily improving upon his lap times from an opening best of 2:04.210 to a personal best of 2:00.328 as the opening two hours progressed.
The team was second and in a position to start a battle for the lead when contact with a slower car damaged the front left suspension, which required the team to pit.
Bleekemolen said: “The car was running great and we were catching the cars in front and then I tried to overtake one of the slower GT3s, a Porsche, and then he just turned in on me and I thought he had seen me but apparently not; he pushed me onto the curb and then we touched.
“I tried to do everything to avoid it but I could not do anything more. I trusted that he had seen me and I could go for the pass, and then he turned in and that was it.”
It’s the second year running Al Qubaisi and Black Falcon have suffered disappointment. In 2015 the team withdrew four hours into the race after a collision on lap 88 caused damage to the rear suspension.
Al Qubaisi, who was a winner of the race in 2012 and 2013, said: “Unfortunately, we have to retire due to an incident with another car while trying to overtake. “Thankfully, Bleekemolen is okay; we were P2 when it happened and could have been leading now. Not meant to be, we will try again next year.”
The race is scheduled to finish at 14:00 today.