Five years ago, Amna Al Haddad was a young journalist with an ambition to alter her unhealthy lifestyle. On April 25, she hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“Before all this, I was a very unhealthy person. I was depressed, and a few pounds overweight (well, I used to think I was a lot more, but I really wasn’t). Then there was a day where I was like, ‘You can do much more than this, you can be better than this’. So, I said to myself, ‘Go and do something. Go for a walk’. And that’s what I did. I went for a walk and that kind of changed my life.”
While Amna discovered her strong competitive spirit and began to focus on competitive weightlifting, she started to look for a training environment with more established infrastructure for female weightlifters.
"After exploring different areas (in the US) I really fell in love with Akron. It was so different than Dubai in every sense - the weather, the people, the atmosphere, the trees. I mean I live in a forest right now. That’s crazy!”
“It’s a journey, that’s the thing. It’s not just going to the Olympics or not. It’s more about learning about who you are, and how you can impact the world in a positive way and that’s what I want to focus on: Keep impacting the world in a positive way.”
Two-time Olympic diver Roseline Filion was in Dubai for the FINA World Series and Sport360 caught up with the Canadian to talk about Rio 2016 pressure, her Olympic training schedule and closing the gap with China.
“This year, as an Olympic year is different. It’s great preparation for Rio. It’s the best of the best, so it’s great to see where everyone is at, so we can go back home and work harder,” said Filion.
When asked about pressure with Rio around the corner, Filion added: “There’s a bit little more pressure. We want to have a great year and great preparation. We want to show the judges what we have and what were capable of.”
“Olympic year doesn’t change very much in terms of our approach. I organise everything from London 2016 to Rio 2016. The plan is to go year by year and I’m following my plan, it’s going great.”
The IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships heralded a new and glorious dawn for three Emirati athletes, who successfully qualified for the Rio Paralympics 2016.
The line-up includes wheelchair racing champions Mohammed Al Hamadi from Sharjah and Salim Al Shehhi from Ajman, along with Discus ace Siham Al Rashidi from Dubai.
MOHAMMED AL HAMADI
Discipline: Wheelchair racing – T54 category
Wheelchair racing star, Mohammed Al Hamadi had already qualified for Rio after a Qatar competition last year, but consecutive victories at IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships held at Dubai Police Club cemented his status as one of the region’s pre-eminent wheelchair athletes. Al Hamadi won four gold medals for the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m.
“I am very happy with the outcome and I trained night and day for this. I had to face many challenges while training, but I managed to come out on top so I am happy and I will work even harder for Rio,” Al Hamadi told Sport360 through an interpreter.
Al Hamadi suffered from Cerebral Palsy when he was young, which rendered him paralysed from waist down, but through rigorous training he was able to develop the core strength that has made him one of the strongest contenders to represent UAE at the Rio Paralympics.
“We are very happy with his performance, Mohammed is participating in the next competition in Sharjah for the Fazza International Tournament, and will take part in other international events to gain more experience,” said Iman Al Muhairi, general secretary of UAE PAralympic Federation.
SALIM AL SHEHHI
Discipline: Wheelchair racing – T34 category
Asia Oceania Championships Result: 2 Gold Medals (100m, 200m), 1 Silver Medal (400m)
Seventeen-year-old Salim Al Shehhi was a first-time entrant in an international wheelchair racing tournament but incredibly managed to win two gold medals in the men’s 100m and 200m, and also bagged a silver medal in the men’s 400m race.
Salem Al Shehhi was the youngest competitor at the championship – he has to juggle training with his school studies – but remarkably managed to qualify for Rio at the first attempt.
“I had this disability since birth and it’s really difficult for me to train,” Salem told Sport360. Because I have school, but I go to the Club (Al Thiqah Club for Handicapped in Sharjah) every day, following the advice of my friend (Al Hussani), who took me around the club and introduced me to the sport and I fell in love with it.
SIHAM AL RASHIDI
Asia Oceania Championships: 1 Silver Medal
Discus thrower Al Rashidi suffered from a Polio attack at the age of six months and despite having surgery, she was still confined to a wheelchair.
After spending hours training at the Dubai Club for Disabled, Al Rashidi – who started off practicing javelin – perfected her discus technique and at the IPC Athletics Asia Oceania Championships secured her spot at Rio.
“I trained twice a day every day for the championship because I switched my expertise from Javelin throw to discus,” the 33-year-old told Sport360, communicating through an interpreter. “I am happy that all that hard work paid off and I am incredibly happy that I will get to represent UAE on such a huge platform.”
Her coach Fatima Toumi expressed great delight in Siham’s performance and commended her dedication to the sport, despite also having an eight-year-old son to take care of.
“Siham has proved herself through this tournament and even though she has a son, she still remained focus on giving her best,” said Fatima. “I don’t understand why Siham is considered disabled athlete, she is as mentally and physically strong as any normal person.”