The world’s best athletes reconvene this week in Dubai, for the first time since the Rio 2016 Paralympics, and Emirati gold medallist Mohammed Al Hammadi knows he will have a target on his back following his heroics in Brazil last summer.
The Dubai World Para Athletics Grand Prix – also known as the 9th Fazaa International meeting – kicks off the 2017 nine-stop grands prix season with the action commencing on Monday at the Dubai Club for the Disabled and concluding on Thursday March 23.
More than 370 athletes from 40 countries – including 50 Rio 2016 medallists – will line up at the season opener with reigning T34 800m Paralympic champion, Al Hammadi headlining the UAE squad.
The 31-year-old turned the tables on his long-time rival Walid Ktila of Tunisia at the Games in Brazil by beating him for the first time to claim 800m gold, setting a new Paralympic record in the process.
The Sharjah-native is expected to take part in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m events this week in Dubai, where he’ll be facing off with Ktila – a three-time Paralympic gold medallist, world champion and world record holder – for the first time since Rio.
“The Dubai Grand Prix is a great competition for athletes, it keeps getting better each year,” Al Hammadi told Sport360.
“Maybe less people will be competing here this year because it’s only a few months after the Rio Paralympics, which ended ath the end of September. So to start training again right away after the Games is sometimes tough.
“Once one Paralympics is over, you start planning for the next four years. I’m working for a long-term goal and you start building your form once again step by step.”
Al Hammadi, like the rest of the field, is preparing for the upcoming World Championships, taking place in London from July 14-23.
“London will be the real test for me, it is where I can see how I measure up against the competition,” explained Al Hammadi.
“The Sharjah Sports Council is sponsoring me until Tokyo 2020. They will cover all my camps, my needs, my wheelchair, and that makes me really happy.
“The secretary general came to me before racing the final in Rio and told me ‘I will be supporting you until 2020’. That gave me huge motivation to go out there and get the gold.”
Al Hammadi is the country’s first Paralympic gold medallist in athletics and he’s hoping his success can spur others to follow suit.
Emirati Paralympic bronze medallist Sara Al Senaani will take part in the women’s F33 shot put action.