How important are the Olympics to tennis?

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After a 60-year break, tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 and has been a part of the Games since.

Ahead of Rio 2016, CNN examines how the likes of Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Serena William were given the opportunity to win gold medals.

 


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#360view: Right call for Al Bedwawi to be UAE's Rio flag bearer

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Teenager Al Bedwawi will be hoping to star in Rio.

Less than two weeks ahead of the Games’ kick-off in Brazil, the UAE National Olympic Committee (NOC) has finally announced the 13-strong squad that will be representing the Emirates at the Rio Olympics.

While this is not the biggest athletes’ delegation sent from the UAE to the Olympics, it is worth noting that 18 of the 28 that went to London four years ago were footballers. So in terms of participation in individual sports, this is the largest Emirati contingent headed to the Games since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Four of the 13 flying to Rio are females, with teenage swimmer Nada Al Bedwawi chosen as flag-bearer. Al Bedwawi is the youngest of the squad and will become the first-ever female swimmer to represent the UAE at the Olympics.

The NOC’s decision to choose the 18-year-old as the flag-bearer was questioned by an Arab reporter at the press conference, as he claimed she is not up for the “responsibility” but I personally believe it is a great move by sports officials in the country.

The UAE remains a relatively young nation when it comes to the Olympics, having competed for the first time as recently as the Los Angeles 1984 Games.

A quick look at the 13 participants heading to Rio shows that only two of them have competed at the Games before – veteran shooter Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, who will be contesting his fifth consecutive Olympics, and naturalised Ethiopian Betlhem Belayneh, who participated in London 2012.

The remaining 11 are all first-time Olympians, many of which are young, up-and-comers.

Considering Sheikh Saeed has carried the UAE flag in the opening ceremony on more than one occasion in his past appearances, it is a great initiative from the NOC to give that honour to a young female, who is blazing a trail for the Emirates in the swimming pool and can inspire other girls and boys from her generation to follow suit.

Being the first at something is never easy, and Al Bedwawi is taking on that role with great courage, so assuming she is not “up for the responsibility” to carry the UAE flag in Rio is a baseless and unacceptable verdict.

It’s refreshing to see such a progressive decision from the NOC and hopefully it will lay the ground for more such actions in the future.

It was disappointing however to attend the official NOC announcement of the UAE Olympics delegation at a press conference that had zero athletes in attendance.

There always seems to be a great disconnect between the NOC and the competitors and it was evident by their absence.

While some of the athletes have already flown to Rio, many of them are still in the UAE and it’s only natural that they face the media before they go off to what is the biggest sporting event on the planet. Shielding them from the media is doing them no favours as no professional athlete can survive in sport without dealing with journalists and TV cameras.

Another surprise at the announcement was the last-minute replacement of hammer thrower Mohamed Omar Al Khatib with middle distance runner Saud Al Zaabi. Al Khatib was initially meant to compete with a wildcard but the UAE Athletics Federation was told that the hammer throw event was overcrowded with entries and that the IOC and IAAF would rather give the Emirates an invite for a track event instead.

Al Zaabi was the lucky recipient of the wildcard, and even though he is a specialist in the 800m, he will be competing in the 1,500m, which is probably the event with more slots available for invitees.

While it will undoubtedly be an incredible opportunity and experience for Al Zaabi, it’s worth noting that he has never represented the UAE in a non-police-related international meet before – not at the GCC level, not at the Arab level and not at the Asian level.

Seeing him flung straight to the Olympics, to compete at a level that is so alien to him, is a prime example of why the wildcard system at the Games needs tweaking.

It is also an indication of how ill-prepared the federation was here, that when a slot opened for a middle distance runner, there were no athletes in the pipeline with any shred of experience ready to take that opportunity. Here’s hoping Al Zaabi makes the most out of it.

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Egypt's Olympics medal favourite Ihab Abdelrahman fails doping test

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Rio in jeopardy: For Ihab Abdelrahman.

Egypt’s World Championships javelin throw silver medallist and major Rio Olympics medal hopeful, Ihab Abdelrahman, has failed a doping test, the Egyptian National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) announced on Sunday.

Abdelrahman, who became Egypt’s first-ever World Athletics Championships medallist when he took silver in Beijing last year, has been provisionally suspended after his ‘A’ sample, taken at his home in Sharqia, Egypt on April 17, 2016, tested positive for testosterone.

The test was done by the Egyptian NADO – a government-funded organisation responsible for testing national athletes in and out-of-competition, as well as athletes from other countries competing within that nation’s borders.

A ‘B’ sample has been sent to a lab in Barcelona and should it confirm the positive result, Abdelrahman will be suspended and will miss the Rio Games. Should the Barcelona lab find his ‘B’ sample negative, his provisional suspension will be lifted and the Egyptian will be allowed to compete in Brazil.

Abdelrahman, 27, has been in fine form this season, winning javelin gold at the Diamond League stops in Eugene in May and Stockholm last month, and was considered one of Egypt’s strongest medal prospects in Rio next month.

Walid Ata, the president of the Egyptian Athletics Federation, hit out at the Egyptian National Olympic Committee (NOC), accusing them of retaliating against Abdelrahman, who had publicly criticised them on his Facebook page last week for hiring a “problematic” chef de mission for the athletics squad heading to Rio.

“The world-class Ihab Abdelrahman, who has made Egyptian, Arab, African, and international history is CLEAN and is above any kind of suspicion,” Ata wrote.

“He has been tested, in and out of competition, more than 60 times and he never goes more than a month without getting blood-tested. Yet when he gets tested here, in Egypt, his test comes positive?

“You people are not getting your revenge against Walid Ata or Ihab Abdelrahman or the athletics family, but your malevolence, hate and envy has led to you to get your revenge against Egypt, and you assassinated the happiness of the people of an entire country that was only a few days away from happening.”

Egypt’s weightlifting champion Mohamed Ehab echoed Ata’s words, also blaming foul play on the NOC’s behalf, and alleging that he was on the receiving end of the same treatment four years ago ahead of London 2012.

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