Distance runner Alia Saeed made history for the UAE by claiming the country’s first-ever athletics gold at the Asian Games, clocking a personal best time to win the 10,000m race in Incheon.
The 23-year-old shaved almost 50 seconds off her own national record to cross the finish line in 31:51.86.
The Ethiopian-born Saeed led a breakaway trio with five laps to go at Incheon’s Asiad Main Stadium, comfortably holding off China’s Ding Changqin and Ayumi Hagiwara of Japan to claim the UAE’s first gold of the Games.
It was a fast-paced race with all three medallists running sub-32 minutes and the top-two both running PBs.
Saeed’s previous best achievement on the continental stage came at the Asian Athletics Championships last year in Pune, where she took silver in 32:39.39 – her previous fastest time.
"I’m so happy to be an Asian champion for the first time. It was a hard race, everyone is strong so I really thank God for this win," an elated Saeed said after the race.
Ahmad Al Kamali, the president of the UAE Athletics Federation, has been a driving force of support for Saeed and Betlhem Belayneh – another Ethiopian import – and had previously vowed to deliver three medals for the Emirates in track and field at the Games.
"This is a great achievement. We are very happy here in the federation and the National Olympic Committee," Al Kamali told Sport360.
"We are really happy that on the first day of athletics here in Incheon, we got a medal, and it’s not just any medal, but a gold one.
"And it won’t be the last one insha’Allah.
"I promised three medals and now we got the first one."
Saeed will now go for the double in Thursday’s 5,000m where she will face off with her fellow Emirati and good friend, Belayneh, a gold medallist in the event at the Asian Championships in Pune last year.
Belayneh begins her campaign today in the 1,500, which she also had won in Pune. The 22-year-old will contest the heats today, hoping to go through to the final tomorrow.
Asked how Saeed’s achievement can affect Belayneh, Al Kamali said: "It won’t put pressure on her. On the contrary, I think it will be a great motivation for her to try and do the same."
In the men’s 400m yesterday, UAE’s Saoud Abdelkarim advanced to the semi-finals with a season best 47.20 but the 26-year-old was unable to make it to the final.
Saeed’s medal is the UAE’s second of the Games. Sheikh Juma bin Dalmook Al Maktoum had won bronze in double trap last Thursday.
Elsewhere in the track, Asian Games athletics judges stripped Bahrain’s Kenya-born runner Ruth Jebet of her steeplechase victory as she was about to collect the gold medal after a crushing win.
The 17-year-old junior world champion was led away in tears as Bahraini team leaders wrangled with race officials who ruled that Jebet had stumbled and put a foot inside the track.
She had annihilated the field at Incheon’s Asiad Main Stadium, crossing the line in nine minutes, 31.36 seconds, more than 24 seconds inside the Games record.
But as Jebet, who switched nationality to Bahrain last year, was about to step onto the podium, the stadium announcer declared that the result had been cancelled, drawing gasps from the crowd.