UAE National Day: A celebration of sporting success

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We celebrate the UAE's brightest sporting superstars.

To celebrate the 45th UAE National Day, we are looking back on some of the stars and achievements to have marked the country’s proud sporting history.

Since gaining independence in 1971, the UAE has – thanks to its enviable resources and geographic advantages – developed into one of the most diverse and arguably the most important sporting territory in the world.

Now the UAE can boast a variety of world class sporting events including golf’s DP World Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – to name but a few.

Aside from great events, the UAE has many of its own sporting stars. Here is a selection of some of the greatest.

AHMED KHALIL – FOOTBALL

Ahmed Khalil’s rise to 2015 AFC Player of the Year showcased Emirati sporting achievement at its finest in the Al Ahli star’s breakout year. The 25-year-old has earned his success, rising from a bench-bound and goal-shy forward to becoming one of the continent’s most outstanding footballers.

He has stood tall for club and country, notching key strikes as Al Ahli made the 2015 AFC Champions League final and the UAE finished third in that year’s Asian Cup. Khalil has followed that up with a fine showing in the UAE’s Russia World Cup Qualifying campaign this year, notching 15 in 13 goals thus far.

SHEIKH AHMAD MOHAMMAD HASHER AL MAKTOUM – SHOOTING

Sheikh Ahmad given a heroes welcome on his return to the UAE.

Sheikh Ahmad given a heroes welcome on his return to the UAE.

Sheikh Ahmad had the honour of winning his country’s first ever Olympic Gold medal at Athens in 2004. The sharp-shooter reached the pinnacle of his sport, winning the double trap event and finishing fourth in the single event. He pioneered an initiative to improve shooting standards in the UAE and helped coach young Brit Peter Wilson, who won gold at the 2012 Olympics.

MOHAMMAD KHAMIS KHALAF – POWERLIFTING

In Athens 2004, Mohammad Khamis Khalaf became the first Emirati to win a gold medal in the Paralympic Games thanks to his powerlifting heroics in the 217kg weight category. When asked what pushes him to continue in the sport, having already achieved top accolades on all regional, continental and worldwide stages he promptly said: “I fell in love with this sport. It symbolises challenge and strength. If you don’t train for a week you come back and have to start from scratch. This is why I admire powerlifting – because you can never stop.”

The fairy tale didn’t end there, Khalaf going on to claim a second Olympic Gold medal at the Rio Games this summer. The 46-year-old secured a third Olympic medal in the process and instantly told Sport360 that he was setting his sights on more medals at Tokyo in four years’ time. “Insha’Allah, I hope to be in Tokyo in four years’ time,” he said. We couldn’t agree more.

SHEIKHA MAITHA BINT MOHAMMED BIN RASHID AL MAKTOUM – MARTIAL ARTS AND POLO

Sheikha Maitha, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, became the first Emirati woman to compete at the Olympics when she took part in the 67kg taekwondo competition. The Sheikha carried the flag into the Beijing Olympic Stadium in 2008 and had previously won the silver medal in the Women’s Over- 60kg Karate event in the 2006 Asian Games.

Sheikha Meitha in action.

Sheikha Maitha in action.

To cement her place in UAE sporting folklore, Sheikha Maitha broke new ground for women in the Emirates by bringing to the Middle East the first-ever ladies-only polo tournament.

SULTAN ZARWANI– CRICKET

Under Zarwani’s leadership, the UAE won the 1994 ICC Trophy in Kenya which earned them qualification for the 1996 Cricket World Cup. He also captained the UAE in their first-ever One Day International match, which was played against India. Although his team was defeated, Zarawani did manage to capture one wicket – that of Sachin Tendulkar.

ADNAN AL TALYANI – FOOTBALL

Sharjah-born Adnan Al Talyani is a name synonymous with UAE football ,with 164 caps for the national team. After announcing his retirement, a testimonial match was played in his honour between Italian champions Juventus and an All-Star team of players from various countries. Fittingly he has since been named the UAE’s Player of the Century.

MOHAMMED BIN SULAYEM – MOTORSPORT

If football and cricket are the UAE’s favourite team sports, motorsports must surely be the favourite individual pursuit. Mohammed bin Sulayem is the most successful driver of the Middle East Rally Championship, having won 14 championships and 60 races, and won the famous Dubai rally 15 times. In 2008, he became the first Arab named as Vice President of the FIA, and the first to be elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council.

OMAR ABDULRAHMAN – FOOTBALL

Al Ain’s midfielder Omar – known fondly as Amoory – is a true UAE sporting icon and last year cemented that status by becoming the first Arab player to appear on the front cover of the iconic Pro Evolution Soccer video game alongside Barcelona star Neymar.

Omar’s accolades are numerous, from winning three Arabian Gulf League titles with Al Ain, to being included in the Team of the Tournament at the 2015 Asian Cup. It was at that Asian Cup that Omar stamped his authority on the region, prompting many to suggest he should start looking to move to foreign shores. Omar stayed loyal to Al Ain and starred in their run to this year’s AFC Champions League final, where they painfully fell short at the last hurdle. His inimitable hairstyle and effortless skill on the pitch makes him the darling of UAE football and a first AFC Player of the Year Award in 2016 was just reward.

KHURRAM KHAN – CRICKET

Easily the UAE’s greatest cricketer and possibly the country’s finest sportsman, Khurram Khan is also widely regarded as one of the sport’s best ever amateurs, having balanced life as an Emirates purser and the country’s prized middle-order batsman with remarkable dedication and commitment.

Pakistan-born left-hander Khurram brought an end to his international career in 2015 after leading the team to its first World T20 and second ever World Cup appearance and will be remembered for his exceptional elegance at the crease as much as his down to earth, affable character that made him a role model for young players both on and off the pitch.

Khurram is regarded as one of the finest Associate cricketers in history.

Khurram is regarded as one of the finest Associate cricketers in history.

Khurram called it a day with 582 runs to his name in his 16 full one-day internationals at an average of 41.57 and including three half centuries and having become the oldest ODI centurion in history in November 2014, seven months before he called time on his career at the grand old age of 43.

SERGIU TOMA – JUDO

Moldovan-born but an utter UAE sporting hero, Sergiu Toma made history for his adopted country at this year’s Rio Olympic Games. The 29-year-old claimed bronze in the -81kg weight class at the Carioca Arena 2 this summer with an Ippon victory over Italy’s Matteo Marconcini to secure the UAE only its second Olympic medal in history.

After competing in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics for his country of birth, Toma moved to the UAE four years ago as part of a wave of his fellow countrymen seeking pastures new in the Emirates. Toma was the star man and his heroics in Brazil brought the UAE back to the forefront of Olympic sport. His tears at the end of his fight for bronze, coupled with Toma clutching the UAE badge on his breast showed exactly how much the country means to him.

NADA AL BEDWAWI – SWIMMING

Aged just 18, Nada Al Bedwawi was given the enormous honour of leading the UAE team out at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as flag-bearer of her nation. It was a moment of great importance, not only for Al Bedwawi and swimming in the country, but also women’s sport in the UAE.

Al Bedwawi, now 19, competed in the 50-metre freestyle at the Games, setting a personal best of 33.42 seconds and her efforts saw the New York University Abu Dhabi student given a heroes welcome on her return to the country. Despite her young age, Al Bedwawi has been a key player in promoting women’s sport in her country and encouraging more young females to take up any manner of sporting disciplines.

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Mohammad Kaif burst into India’s competitive cricket scene at a young age and instantly his athleticism caught the eye.

Although his early international career was marred with difficulties despite the occasional outstanding performance, he was an instrumental figure in his nation’s first Under-19 World Cup triumph in 2000. Many fans may also recall how he helped India chase down 326 with 87 off 75 balls in the 2002 NatWest Series Final.

In the forthcoming year, he became the first non-wicketkeeper to make four catches in a single World Cup campaign.

In domestic cricket, he was Uttar Pradesh’s star player and often considered as one of India’s finest fielders during his prime years, famously spearheading their successful Ranji Trophy campaign in 2006 before helping them reach the finals in 2008 and 2009 thanks to a formidable partnership with Yuvraj Singh.

More sport star birthdays on this day:

1939: Lee Trevino, American World Golf Hall of Fame inducted who the Open in 1971 and 1972 as well as the US Open twice (77).

1948: Neil Warnock, the English manager presently at Cardiff City also coached sides such as  Sheffield United, Leeds and Crystal Palace (68).

1963: Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lankan cricketer who captained his nation’s 1996 World Cup-winning team (53).

1964: Salvatore Schillaci, the Italian striker was instrumental in his country’s 1990 World Cup campaign where he also won the competition’s Golden Boot (52).

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Widely regarded as golf’s greatest, Jack Nicklaus has defined success in the sport with more than 18 major championship wins in his career spanning more than 25 years.

The Ohio native may look back at 1973 as a year laden with fond memories and broken records. After all, it was in August when Nicklaus accomplished a historic landmark achievement with his 12th professional major, surpassing Bobby Jones’ career major record with 14 wins. His stellar form continued as he went on to triumph in six more tournaments.

The Golden Bear continue to impress, picking up his third PGA Player of the Year award. Nicklaus had already won over $300,000 in official money for a single season in 1972 but eventually exceeded the $2 million career PGA Tour earnings mark in the following year, the first player to accomplish this feat.

The American ended the year after 20 official worldwide event tournaments, including seven victories, 14 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s as well as compiling a 4–1–1 record in that year’s Ryder Cup competition.

More memorable moments on this day:

1985: The Medway Bears beat the Richmond Raiders 48-1, a record score in the British Ice Hockey League.

1991: France’s Davis Cup team beat their American counterparts 3-1 to win the final in Lyon, lifting the cup for the first time since 1932.

1999: Darlington allowed FA Cup wild card entry into third round after Manchester United withdraw to play in World Club Championships.

2012: England record sensational 38-21 Twickenham victory over world champions New Zealand, who suffer first defeat in 21 matches.

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