Nada Al Bedwawi, who is set to become the first Emirati female Olympic swimmer, has been chosen to be the UAE flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Games.
The 18-year-old trailblazer will compete in the 50m freestyle event at the Olympics in Brazil and admits the announcement – which came at a press conference held by the UAE National Olympic Committee (NOC) on Sunday at Emirates Towers – took her by surprise.
“I’m very shocked and I’m very excited and I’m really thankful for their trust in me to be the nation’s flag-bearer,” Al Bedwawi told Sport360.
“I didn’t know who was going to carry the flag, I thought it was going to be Sheikh Saeed (Al Maktoum). I was reading an article that asked ‘will there be a female flag-bearer this year, or not?’ It’s just amazing, I’m the first female swimmer and now I’m the flag-bearer too. It’s such an honour.”
This is just the second time a female will be carrying the UAE flag at an Olympic Games, with Sheikha Maitha Al Maktoum given the honour in Beijing 2008.
“We wanted to encourage a young, up-and-coming swimmer like Nada to carry the flag and we believe this will instill a great deal of confidence in her,” said UAE NOC deputy secretary general Daood Al Hajri.
Al Bedwawi is one of four women, and 13 athletes in total, who will be representing the UAE in Rio next month.
It is the third-largest UAE delegation sent to the Olympics. In London 2012, 28 Emiratis took part but 18 of them comprised the football squad, while 15 athletes participated in the Barcelona 1992 Games.
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum (skeet) will be making his fifth consecutive appearance at the Olympics as he spearheads the shooting squad, which also includes Saif bin Futtais (skeet) and Khalid Al Kaabi (double trap).
A trio of naturalised Moldovans, Victor Scvortov (Men’s 73 kg), Sergiu Toma (Men’s 81 kg), and Ivan Remarenco (Men’s 100 kg) will fly the UAE flag in judo while 24-year-old Aisha Al Balushi will compete in the 58kg class in weightlifting.
The track and field team will include Saud Al Zaabi (1,500m), Ethiopian-born Emiratis Alia Saeed (10,000m) and Betlhem Desalegn Belayneh (1,500m).
Joining Al Bedwawi in the pool is backstroke specialist Yaaqoub Al Saadi of Al Ain Club.
In cycling, the UAE will have a representative for the first time ever in the road race thanks to the region’s top cyclist Yousif Mirza.
“We’ve been preparing Yousif for the past year almost. The road race in Rio is going to be one of the longest races ever, it’s going to be like 270km and it’s going to be the best of the best riders from all over the world,” said UAE Cycling Federation president Osama Shafar.
“Yousif just came back from a preparation camp in Portugal and he’s traveling on the 27th to Rio.”
Full UAE Rio 2016 squad
Athletics: Betlhem Belayneh (1,500m), Alia Saeed (10,000m) and Saud Al Zaabi (1,500m)
Cycling: Yousif Mirza (road race)
Judo: Victor Scvortov (Men’s 73 kg), Sergiu Toma (Men’s 81 kg) and Ivan Remarenco (Men’s 100 kg)
Shooting: Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum (Skeet), Saif bin Futtais (Skeet) and Khalid Al Kaabi (Double Trap)
Swimming: Nadal Al Bedwawi (50m freestyle) and Yaaqoub Al Saadi (100m backstroke)
Weightlifting: Aisha Al Balushi (58kg)
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