Double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee is relishing his return to competitive action at the Ironman 70.3 Dubai this weekend after four months out due to surgery.
A serious hamstring injury cut short his 2017 campaign, and now the aim for the Brit will be to stay fit and competitive for the new season.
Brownlee, who had struggled with an ongoing problem since the middle of last season, underwent surgery in August in a bid to be fit for the new calendar year.
Speaking to Sport360°, he said: “I knew at some point I’d need to have an operation on it. It flared up before the summer. I was told it was going to take at least six months to get over the injury.
“I sat there doing the math. I decided to have it then at the end of July to give me time to get over it and have a good run in the season.
“I was on crutches in a leg brace for four weeks. I don’t think I even got into the pool for another three weeks after it.
“I wasn’t cycling or running for another month after that. It took nearly four months in all. I still haven’t been up to full training.”
The 29-year-old was due to compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships last September – building on his win at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in May – but injury curtailed his participation.
Since his return to fitness, the Yorkshire native has been building up his preparation for the new season with training camps in Spain and UK and is excited about the prospect of taking on another stacked field at the Middle East event with several of his 13 Bahrain teammates.
“It’s a great opportunity to be on the start line. It’s been a long winter’s training so it’s nice to break it up with a race. If I was racing in January it would normally be in cross country spikes around a muddy field so it’s nice to be in Dubai. It’s a nice change and it’s good to be here,” he said.
“I’m a natural competitor. I haven’t had a chance to test the hip out yet so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve done quite a lot of training to get here but I’m confident the hip has healed.
“It’s been a long road back. It’ll be interesting to see how far I’ve come in the last few months of training.”
FC Barcelona Handbol and Poland’s PGE Vive Kielce will participate in the inaugural 500 Super Final Handball in Dubai in December, organisers announced on Tuesday.
Barcelona, who have won the European Champions League nine times, and Kielce, the 2016 winners, will face off for a prize purse of $500,000 – $300,000 for the winners, and $200,000 for the losers.
The 500 Super Final will be held in Dubai every December for five years, with this year’s match scheduled for December 21.
Slawek Gebka, the owner of the event, described the 500 Super Final as an “ambitious long-term project”.
The winners of this year’s Super Final will also earn an automatic spot in next year’s match, for which the second team has already been finalised.
“I can officially confirm that the team who will play in the 2019 500 Super Final Handball, against the winner of 2018, will be Telekom Veszprem HC of Hungary,” said Gebka. “I would also like to announce that if a team wins this title three times in a row, they will receive an additional bonus of $300,000.”
Gebka added that the 500 Super Final is part of a bigger project through which he hopes to see more children in the UAE playing handball. To that end, Frenchman Bertrand Gille, considered one of the best pivots to ever play the game, has been named Director of Youth Development in the UAE.
“We are not afraid of failures and we are willing to take chances to make this game exciting, fun and educational for the viewers around the world,” said Gebka, who expects the match will be broadcast live around the globe.
“We want to see them enjoy this great sport of handball by producing fantastic entertainment around the game. But most importantly, we want youths here in the UAE to get interested by bringing the world’s best handball players here, and the world’s best clubs, and they will come here with a positive message.
“I believe if you create the right environment for any sport, and awareness and opportunities on a professional level, success will come sooner or later. You need to be patient, but you need to be absolutely determined.
“My only request is to give us time to produce what we have come here to do. Please don’t judge us today. It will be a long, hard journey but the partners sitting with us here today will make it much easier.”
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Gille agreed with Gebka, saying: “Handball is a very popular sport in Europe, but it suffers from its regionalism. It is present almost exclusively in Europe and the challenge is to see it develop in all the countries of the world in the coming years.”
Gille, who has also won two World Championships titles and a World Player of the Year gong, added: “For this reason, we, along with Slawek Gebka, came up with a project to develop this sport in the UAE.
“It is a project that aims to combine several elements, with the ultimate goal being to increase the number of handball players in the United Arab Emirates.
“Among other things, we will organise regular inter-school competitions so that the spirit of competition is also present. In addition, we will organise regular training courses with teams from European countries, who come here to participate in the 500 Super Final Handball match.
“The 500 Super Final Handball must be the showcase of this educational project and must be the focus that allows children to nurture dreams of performing at a higher level.”
Bahraini para-triathlete, Shaikha Al Shaiba, has her sights set on the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi, which takes place on March 2 and 3 on Yas Island featuring an event for para-triathletes for the first time.
Al Shaiba appreciates how events in the region are trying to become more inclusive and is keen to leave her mark on the Abu Dhabi showpiece.
“We are fortunate that we can now participate in marathons, obstacles races, triathlons and more,” she said. “This has opened the doors for many people like me across many sports.”
Seasoned para-triathletes, such as Al Shaiba, as well as first-timers will have the chance to rub shoulders and compete alongside inspirational heroes of Paralympic triathlon including world and European Champion and Rio 2016 Paralympic gold medallist, Andy Lewis, and Morocco’s Mohamed Lahna, the 2016 bronze medallist.
The dedicated para waves will take place on Saturday March 2, on the same course as fellow age groupers at the iconic Yas Island, the host venue for ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2018.
“I fell in love with multi-discipline sport last year when I did my first Ironman 70.3 in Bahrain. I was thrilled to complete the swim, bike, run course and decided to check the Abu Dhabi event off my bucket list this year,” said Al Shaiba, who lost her arm to bone cancer.
“I was 18 months-old and had to amputate my arm at that point,” said the 34-year-old.
“I went on to attend school and wear a prosthetic arm which I didn’t really like and it was more for appearance purposes. I then decided to stop wearing the arm and didn’t care what anyone thought anymore.
“This was a pivotal moment in my life because not only did it give me a boost of confidence, but it also led me to believe that nothing is impossible.”
In April 2016 Al Shaiba’s friend encouraged her to join their team in participating in the Spartan Race Bahrain. Contestants had to run, climb and crawl through nets over an intense 15km-plus course with more than 25 obstacles.
“When I was considering competing in the Spartan Race a friend told me that these races do not cater for people like me. That was the exact moment where I decided that I was going to go ahead and participate with the team and try it out. Remember nothing is impossible,” said Al Shaiba.
“Crossing that finish line was the best feeling in the world. I’ve now become an ambassador for Spartan Race in Bahrain which is fantastic.”
Filled with confidence and determination she went on to sign up for the Ironman 70.3 in Bahrain in November last year.
“I thoroughly enjoyed competing in the Ironman and decided to sign up to the Ironman 70.3 Dubai in February followed by the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi in March,” she explained.
She currently trains independently for close to 10 hours every week. The inspirational Bahraini athlete is on a mission to motivate others to follow in her steps and take the plunge into the world of multi-discipline sports.
“You will be surprised at what you are capable of doing on that race course. Once you’ve experienced your first triathlon you won’t be able to stop at just one,” she says.
Abu Dhabi has become the leading regional hub for triathlon, with close to 4,000 triathletes, including 120 of the world’s best elites and 500 juniors expected to take to take part in the 2018 event.
Para-athletes Categories at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2018
PTWC/PTHC: This category includes athletes who predominantly use a wheelchair for their daily ambulation. This includes athletes with comparable activity limitation and an impairment of, but not limited to: muscle power, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia, and athetosis. Severe cerebral palsy athletes will use a recumbent hand-cycle on the bike course and a racing wheelchair on the run segment. It is divided into two subclasses, H1 which is the most impaired and H2 being the least impaired.
PST2: This category includes athletes with comparable activity limitation and an impairment of, but not limited to, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia and or athetosis, impaired muscle power or range of movement. Common health conditions could include a complete brachial plexus, above elbow amputee, double below knee amputee or severe cerebral palsy. In both bike and run segments, amputee athletes may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices.
PST3: Common health conditions could include partial brachial plexus, moderate multiple limb impairments or moderate cerebral palsy. In both bike and run segments, the athlete may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices.
PST4: Common health conditions could include a below knee amputee, below elbow amputee and mild cerebral palsy. In both bike and run segments, the athlete may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices.
PST5: Common health conditions could include a below knee amputee, below elbow amputee and mild cerebral palsy. In both bike and run segments, the athlete may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices
PTVI: This category includes athletes with total or Partial Visual Impairment (IBSA/IPC defined subclasses B1, B2, and B3): To be eligible, athletes must meet the criteria outlined below. One guide is mandatory throughout the race and each competitor must ride a tandem during the bike segment.
a) B1: Visual acuity poorer than LogMAR 2.60
b) B2: Visual acuity ranging from LogMAR 1.50 to 2.60 (inclusive) and/or visual field constricted to a diameter of less than 10 degrees
c) B3: Visual acuity ranging from LogMAR 1.40 to 1 (inclusive) and/or visual field constricted to a diameter of less than 40 degrees.
Online registrations for the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2018 are now open to the public via the race website, AbuDhabi.Triathlon.org/Enter. Prices starting from just Dh405 for adults and Dh60 for children.