UAE’s Khadija Mohammed has vowed to build on her Olympic experience after competing in the women’s 75kg weightlifting.
The Dubai-born 17-year-old made history in London, becoming the first female weightlifter from the Gulf to compete at the Games.
The inexperienced Mohammed finished last in Group A, lifting 51kg in the snatch discipline before failing at 53kg. She lifted 62kg on her third and final allocated lift in the Clean and Jerk, finishing 178kg behind group winner Svetlana Podobedova, of Kazakhstan.
Constantly encouraged by her animated coach Najwan Al Zawawi, Mohammed visibly revelled in the big-time atmosphere and said the results table was secondary compared to the experience.
“Just being here among all these world champions is great,” Mohammed said. “I still don’t have enough experience in weightlifting, I was originally a handball player but I believe I have a good future in the sport in the upcoming years, especially as I’m only 17 and I am capable of doing well for UAE sport.
“I did my best to train and prepare well for the Olympics but the competition is really difficult, especially because weightlifting depends on the numbers you lift – you can’t just come up with a weight that is too far from expectations.”
Mohammed was chosen to represent the UAE by her five teammates after the UAE team earned a solitary spot at the Games with a fine performance at the Asian Championships in Korea last May.
Neither Mohammed or the UAE Weightlifting Federation were under any illusions as to Mohammed’s medal hopes, seeing the trip more as the first step on her career.
“We were honest with ourselves and with the people before the start of the tournament,” said Faisal Al Hamadi, Secretary General of the UAE Weightlifting Federation.
“Our competitor is new to the sport and inexperienced and there’s a long way to go before she will be competitive in something like the Olympics but she has the chance to prepare well for Brazil 2016 by competing in Arab, Gulf and Asian Championships, and this is an important step for her.”
Podobedova took the overall gold with a combined lift of 291kg (130, 161), with Russia’s Natalya Zabolonaya second and Iryna Kulesha, of Belarus, third.
There can be few things in sport more painful than coming fourth in an event at the Olympic Games, but for Saudi Arabian rider Kamal Bahamdan a bronze medal in the team jumping competition must have helped take out the sting from his fourth-place finish in individual jumping.
The 42-year-old from Riyadh was competing in his fifth Olympics but this time he had set higher goals for himself and was determined to go the distance.
After three solid qualification rounds on his 11-year-old mare Noblesse Des Tess, Bahamdan entered the final two rounds of the individual competition sharp and confident.
He jumped two clear rounds in the final but picked up two time faults which put him one single penalty point behind the Netherlands’ Gerco Schroder and Ireland’s Cian O’Connor, who both had to go through a jump-off to settle the battle for silver.
“I missed out on the bronze by ‘one hair’,” Bahamdan told Sport360°. “In more sense than one. It was only one time penalty that put me in fourth, but also Cian O’Connor who won the bronze, he hadn’t qualified to the final round and only got in after the Swede (Rolf Goran Bengston on Cassal) had to withdraw. So yeah, lots of ifs but that’s God’s will.”
Bahamdan had taken a lengthy sabbatical from his job as a businessman to build towards London 2012 and he spent his time riding on the Global Champions Tour (GCT) which features the best riders in the world.
As the Games approached, the Saudi veteran admitted that his horses were peaking at the right time and he came fifth in Monaco only weeks before the Olympics. But it was still a stunning finish from Bahamdan, who had dropped only one rail over five rounds, but ultimately suffered the consequences of one extra time penalty.
He says: “If someone told me two weeks ago you will come fourth in the Games I would have been happy. But the fact of the matter is after Tess jumped three rounds, and the way she jumped it and how she reacted she gave me the feeling that she will do no wrong.
“It was the same feeling as in Monaco. After the team competition I was pumped, I knew Tess was going to do her job. Which she did. I can’t blame her for the time fault. Obviously I misjudged it but I can’t beat myself about it either. She felt amazing going into the individual final. We were so in tune together and that really is the best feeling ever.”
Plan of action
Still Bahamdan leaves London with a precious bronze medal which he captured with his teammates HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud, Ramzy Al Duhami and Abdullah Al Sharbatly.
Even though some saw their medal showing as a surprise, the Saudi Arabians’ success did not come out of nowhere. Three of those competing in London were part of the team that finished eighth amongst 27 nations in the World Equestrian Games two years ago in Kentucky, where Sharbatly also captured the silver medal in individual.
The Saudi Equestrian Federation had created a fund to buy some of the best horses in the world and that combined with the host of talented riders in the country, has resulted in a podium finish for Team Saudi Arabia.
“It felt amazing to be honest to get on that podium,” said Bahamdan. “It’s all about setting goals and working towards them, you set it, you work towards it, you keep focusing on the plan more than the results.
“You just focus on executing the job and when it’s all over you see the results, it hits you. How close you came, how far you’ve come. It’s only just sinking in now,” he added.
After the first round of team qualification, the Saudi Arabians were in first place and the headline on the London 2012 official website had branded them “the team to beat”. But the pressure did not overwhelm the Saudis as they stayed cool to earn a podium place.
“We had decided to stay away from everything, all the news and any distractions. We were thinking tomorrow’s a new day and everything from day one was just to position ourselves. This is how we felt that it was just a starting point,” explained Bahamdan.
“We said we want to go there and fight. But you don’t think about results. We all felt very positive after the first day. The horses had jumped well. After the first round of the Nations Cup it got very difficult and more demanding. We knew the third day was going to be more challenging. Of course it does take a lot out of the horses. But thankfully we were all up for it.”
Back in the saddle
After an unforgettable week in Greenwich, Bahamdan does not have much time to relax. He’s attending a reception in Saudi Arabia to honour the team’s medalling efforts before he’s off to Valkenswaard in Holland for the ninth stop of the GCT.
He admits it’s too soon to think of Rio 2016 and a possible sixth Olympics showing for him but he says his immediate plan is to try to get on the podium at one of the Grand Prix on the GCT.
Looking to the future
He also hopes that Saudi Arabia’s success can help move the sport forward in the Arab world and he has some interesting ideas for that to happen. He said: “To be fourth in the games it’s a boost for me. It shows it can be done. I campaigned for that a year and a half ago. There are so many talented riders in the Arab world. It’s never too late. You just have to have the right mindset.
“Everything can be done if you plan it right and stick to the plan through the ups and down. The key thing is to keep everything pure. Everything has to be honest and pure and then things will happen. We have good seeds. Maybe all they needed is a little bit of momentum and maybe the Saudi team bronze medal will help to move them forward.
"Through motivation and also this might push people to buy horses for them. There are some top riders who don’t have the right horses. I’m very positive. We’re not just going to expect it to happen, we have to work hard together.
"I have an idea to try and get all the international Arab riders to try to form an informal club with one objective that is to move the sport forward in the Arab world. We want to use these results to our advantage.”
The UAE’s Betlhem Desalegn is set to make her Olympics debut with the 1,500m heats at 11:50am in London today.
The 20-year-old, who clocked a personal best of 4:08.87 in Casablanca last month to qualify for the Games, has undergone intensive training in Addis Ababa prior to the Olympics and her coach Bele Welash is optimistic she will advance to the next round.
“Betlhem is in excellent shape. She’s been training in altitude in Addis Ababa and is ready both technically and physically,” said Welash.
“She is 48kg, which is the perfect weight for a runner in this race, and while I can’t make any predictions, I believe she is ready and can qualify through her heat, which is our goal for this Olympics. Of course you never know what can happen if she advances. It’s going to be a new race.”
Desalegn’s opponents include Genzebe Dibaba, gold medal winner at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul earlier this year.
Russia’s Ekaterina Kostetskaya, who is hoping to emulate her mother, former European champion Olga’s personal best of 3:54.23, is another of Desalegn’s opponents.
Ethiopian Abeba Aregawi, who created waves at the Diamond League with a silver in Shanghai and gold in Rome, where she clocked a personal best of 3:56.54, will run in Heat 1 alongside runner-up at the World Championships in Daegu Hannah England of Great Britain, Natalia Rodriguez of Spain and Moroccan Btissam Lakhouad.
American reigning world champion Jennifer Simpson will be seen in action in Heat 2 in the company of the UK’s Lisa Dobriskey.