Dubai-trained Herrera aiming for Sailing Arabia glory

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Plain sailing: The Gulf coast boasts ideal conditions for sailing.

Marcel Herrera is hoping for a “third time lucky” winning championship in this year’s EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2014.

The 21-year-old German skipper, who learnt to sail in Dubai, is hoping to steer his youth Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team to victory in the Gulf coast’s only annual long distance offshore event.

Despite his age, Herrera is considered one of the more experienced veterans of Gulf racing, having competed in two of the three editions of SATT held so far.

He has raced with the UAE Team Ras Al Khaimah and coached sailing in Dubai and Oman.

The young skipper also led the Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team to 5th place in the 2013 EFG Sailing Arabia, a result he wants to improve on.

“A personal ambition is to finish on the podium no matter the event so I am hoping for a combined team effort that puts us in contention for a top spot,” said Herrera.

“We are putting in hundreds of hours of preparation to make this a winning campaign.”

At least 10 elite GCC and international teams are expected for the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2014, which takes place from February 9 to 24.

Organised by Oman Sail,  the classic 15 day, 760 nautical mile annual Gulf coast challenge is contested in identical Farr 30 one-design keelboats.

Rated as one of the most popular warm-winter fixtures of the global sailing calendar, it follows a course down the coast with calls at eight world-class marinas in four nations, from Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, before finishing in Oman.

The 2013 edition hosted several top international skippers, who rated the regatta among the best in the world.

They included Olympian and winning Volvo Ocean Race skipper Sidney Gavignet and Bertrand Pace, an eight times winner of the Tour de France à la Voile and helmsman of two America’s Cup challenges.

Herrera admitted that EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour was an exceedingly competitive event, especially given the tough competition.

“It is also a very challenging event. In 2013 our team had to adapt to the heat, the professional competition and format so it is very testing as skipper.

“The highlight was finishing on equal points with French sailing legend Bertrand Pace during the Abu Dhabi in port race and only coming second due to the count back method of scoring. 

“EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is full of memorable experiences in terms of challenge and adventure.”

Issa Al Ismaili, Oman Sail Event Director, welcomes the entry of such impressive youth teams and is confident they will return again to help the event grow.

“In just three years the event has established the Middle East as an exceptional international yacht racing destination with unbeatable sailing conditions,” said Al Ismaili.

“It has re-ignited our centuries old maritime heritage, promoted sailing as a sport and gives our competitors the chance to enjoy a rare tour of some of great nations and first class in port facilities.”

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Region’s finest battle it out at Dubai Basketball Champs

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Taking part: Organisers have managed to secure Egypt's participation.

The Dubai International Basketball Championship is back for its 25th edition with the UAE entering two teams in a bid to make an impact on the competition.

The surprise news going into the event is that the tournament organisers have been able to get the participation of the Egyptian national team, a boon for the team that have obviously been hamstrung by political events at home.

The lineup takes a more unconventional appearance this year with just seven teams taking part due to Lebanon being unable to field the expected three teams they hoped to bring.

Due to political disputes within the Lebanese basketball federation, the nation’s teams have been banned from taking part in any competition – shame for the Dubai International Championship that has seen sides like Anibal Zahle and Riyadi lift the trophy in recent years.

The action tips off today (Thursday) and it will last for nearly two weeks with the eventual conclusion coming on January 18.

Representing the UAE will be the national team – no doubt sprinkled liberally with youthful talent as the  federation continues it policy of bringing through the next generation of players and exposing them to the best competition in the region – as well as hosts Al Ahli who were surprise semi-finalists last year under Peter Schoemers.

While Riyadi Beirut – a powerhouse of the region and competition – will be in action, there will also be Riyadi Aramex of Amman, Jordan, a team that enter the tournament as one of the favourites while Libya will have two teams with Ittihad and Ahly Benghazi taking to the court.

Rounding out the numbers is the And1 company, shoemakers from the US who will no doubt bring some extra spice to this year’s competition.

Basketball is very much on the agenda this year in Dubai with the World Under 17 Championships coming into town later in the year.

There is no better way for the avid local basketball fan to whet their appetite than at the Emirate’s showpiece basketball event that has grown over the years to become one of the region’s most prestigious.

What: The 25th Dubai International Basketball Championships

When: January 9-18

Where: Al Ahli Stadium, Dubai

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Ping pong stars descend on Dubai for World Tour Grand Finals

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Have a go: Dubai residents can play on free-to-use tables in parks.

This weekend Dubai residents will get to experience a master class in table tennis when the world’s best players contest the GAC Group 2013 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals at Al Nasr Club from today (Thursday) until Sunday, January 12.

A total of 69 players from 18 countries including China, Germany, Belgium, Brazil and of course the UAE are in action, and up for grabs is a hefty $1 million (Dh3.67m), so expect some fast and furious competition. The semi-finals and finals both will take place on Sunday.

In the spotlight this weekend is the China National Team, known to be the most successful in the world with table tennis the most popular sport in their country, and its star players yesterday joined forces with Team UAE’s Majd Albalooshi and Abdulla Almuheisni at Safa Park to create some build-up ahead of the showpiece as well as promote the sport alongside Ping Pong Dubai, a non-profit initiative working at popularising the sport in the UAE.

The first stage of the initiative was to install free-to-use tables across Dubai Parks and in front of The Archive at Safa Park where many residents, both expats and locals, had a go with the bat and ball and showed off their skills under the watchful eyes of the professionals, who also staged exciting demos.

Chinese star and 2012 Olympic men’s gold medallist Jike Zhang – who was at the promotional event yesterday and will be competing this weekend alongside team-mates world No1 Long Ma, world No1 female player Shiwen Liu, London 2012 gold medallist Xiao Xia Li, and Olympic silver medalists Ning Ding and Wang Hao – said: “Table tennis can be enjoyed by anyone – no matter their age, ability or fitness level – and having tables in parks captures the spirit so it is wonderful to see this happening in Dubai. It is always pleasing to see table tennis being developed in other countries and witnessing people sharing in China’s passion for the sport.”

One very passionate player representing the small female contingent in Team UAE this weekend, Majd Albalooshi, is looking forward to sharing the world stage with such greats as the Chinese.

“Since I am competing against world champions it’s going to be difficult. I’ll try my best,” she said.

Action gets underway from 10:00, through to 19:00 each day.

What: GaC Group 2013 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

When: Thursday, January 9 to Sunday, January 12

Where: Al Nasr Sports Club, Al Nasr Leisureland

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