The UAE’s Rio 2016 hero Mohammed Al Hammadi claimed a victory and runners-up spot as the Dubai World Para Athletics Grand Prix got under way on Monday.
Al Hammadi, 31, was competing in his opening major international meeting since storming to gold in the T34 800 metres wheelchair in Brazil last September. He was denied a double success yesterday by Great Britain’s Craig Boardman in the 200m who lodged a leading 27.84 seconds, comfortably ahead of the home star’s time of 28.48.
But the Emirati was not to be denied in his trademark discipline later on in the absence of Tunisian great Walid Ktila, where he held off Kuwait’s Hamad Aladwani and Japan’s Hitoshi Matsunaga in an unclassified time. This was to provide the highlight of the first night – in which three world records fell – of the four-day event at Dubai Club for the Disabled, which has attracted 386 athletes and 50 medallists from last year’s Paralympics.
“This is a new training cycle for me,” said Al Hammadi about his results at the first event on the nine-stop grand-prix season. “After finishing at Rio, I stopped training and am now coming back slowly, slowly.
“I am not just training for one year – it is for four years.
“This is testing the competition for London [World ParaAthletics Championships from July 14-23].”
Al Hammadi is also scheduled to compete in the 100m and 400m later on in the tournament.
Meanwhile, there was more joy for the UAE as youngster Mohammed Al Kaabi enjoyed a breakthrough win in the F35/36/38 discus.
A colossal throw of 37.03m put him well ahead of Azerbaijan’s Rufat Rafiyev and Czech Republic’s Petr Vratil.
“I didn’t go to Rio,” said Al Kaabi. “But I will now go to London, Inshallah, and Tokyo 2020.
“I am planning to get gold in the shot put [today].”
The fans in Dubai were further entertained in the discus wheelchair F33 final, as a trio of Rio rivals mixed it up again.
All three medalists from the shot put were pitted against each other in a different event. This time the finishing order was reversed, Saudi Arabia’s Hani Alnakhli winning gold with a world record 31.03m, Algeria’s Kamel Kardjena taking another silver and Paralympic champion Daniel Scheil settling for bronze.
Despite this setback, there were no hard feelings from the German.
Scheil said: “It is a wonderful feeling to compete against these guys. We will see what will happen the next time in London.”
Algeria’s Paralympic shot put champion Asmahan Boudjadar set a new javelin F33 world record in Dubai 12 months ago and she did not disappoint this time either, adding a phenomenal 83cm to her previous javelin mark with her final throw of the day.
Boudjadar managed a massive 12.82m to take the win.
Kuwait’s Paralympic champion Ahmad Almutairi also got his season off to a flying start, smashing his own world record in the men’s 200m T33.
The 22-year-old, who won 100m T33 gold at last year’s Paralympics, knocked 0.61 seconds off the mark he set in Switzerland last May as he crossed the line in 29.35.
This is an extraordinary time in Ananias Shikongo’s remarkable life.
The 30-year-old this week has been dusting off his spikes at the ongoing Dubai World Para Athletics Grand Prix, six months since storming into the record books as Namibia’s first male gold medallist, at either the Paralympics or Olympics, in the 200 metres at Rio 2016.
Not bad for a country which has also produced fellow sprint great Frankie Fredericks.
His status as T11’s – classification for totally blind – star attraction is not the only thing which has markedly changed. Transformative success on the grandest stage has meant home is no longer a metal shack in the Katutura township, as he consigns “living that struggling life” to the past.
“So far when I came back from Rio, I started to become a famous person in my country,” said Shikongo, whose winning time of 22.44 seconds in South America set a new Paralympic benchmark. “I have given some motivational speeches around schools in the country and I have won sport awards in Namibia.
“This has really helped me to change my life. I can now be on my own, even to buy my own car so that I can go to training.
“When I won that medal, I didn’t initially get a response from our government, only from our standard bank. When they saw me in my ghetto life with my medals, they saw I was sleeping in the ghetto, and they said they would buy me a house with their own funds.
“I am going to be living in a brick house, but I will stay in town. I am no longer living that struggling life.”
A shooting accident with a bow and arrow cost Shikonga his left eye aged three, with a kick from a donkey doing the same to his right when he was just six. Redoubtable spirit has seen him transform these tragedies into becoming 2015 All Africa Games champion in the 100m, 200m and 400m plus being a twin World Championships silver medallist, among other successes, prior to his momentous run in Rio last September.
“I was really targeting to destroy most of my competitors,” said Shikongo of his landmark result. “I was really targeting the Brazilians [Felipe Gomes and Daniel Silva], so I was really looking to destroy them in their own motherland.”
A different guide was at Shikongo’s side in Dubai on Monday as he won a two-man race, with Even Tjiviju currently absent after the 200m gold and bronzes in the 100m and 400m in Rio.
“We have a lack of people loving and guiding,” said Shikongo.
“You can work with someone and they are shy. I decided to train some of the guys and others in Namibia.
“This will help blind people to not go through difficult years.”
The Dubai World Cup, without a doubt, is one of the biggest sporting and social occasions on the UAE calendar.
The event, which was born out of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is the world’s richest horse race.
We’ve put together all the key details you need to know ahead of the spectacular sporting spectacle.
DUBAI WORLD CUP DATE, TIME, VENUE INFO
DATE: Saturday, March 25th 2017
VENUE: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai
GATES OPEN: Midday (GST)
RACING START TIME: 3:45pm (GST)
TICKETS: Tickets for all race meetings, including the Dubai World Cup, are still available. Visit dubaiworldcup.com for full ticketing information and hospitality packages.
RACE SCHEDULE: There are nine races, six in Group 1 and three in Group 2 – with the multi-million dollar Dubai World Cup race bringing an end to proceedings.
HEADLINE RACE: US$10 million (Dh37m) Dubai World Cup.
POST-RACE CONCERT: A 70-minute live concert by Australian pop singer Sia.
WHERE TO WATCH, LIVE STREAMING INFO:
TV: UAE – Full coverage available on both Dubai Sports and Yas TV.
RADIO: UAE – Listen to the action on Dubai Eye 103.8.
LIVE BLOG: Sport360.com
GETTING TO MEYDAN
With 80,000 race-goers travelling to Meydan on Saturday, make sure you make prior transport arrangements to get to the race venue.
There will be plenty of taxi and Uber options available but our advice is to book ahead and be wary that there will be long queues leaving the venue after the conclusion of the racing and the post-race concert.