UAE’s Betlhem Desalegn Belayneh has been dealt an injury blow less than three weeks ahead of her 1,500m race at the Rio Olympics.
The 24-year-old Ethiopian-born Emirati, nicknamed Betty, aggravated a lingering hamstring problem during the race she won in Heusden, Belgium last week and it is unclear how the injury will affect her chances in Rio.
The four-time Asian champion, who ran a 4:03.70 PB in Beijing in May, is considered one of the UAE’s strongest prospects at next month’s Olympic Games.
“After her race in Belgium she got injured. I think it’s a little bit of strain in her right hamstring. Because when she sped up in the last 100m to win, she pulled it,” explained Moroccan former Olympic champion Said Aouita, who was hired last month by the UAE National Olympic Committee as a technical expert to supervise the athletics squad.
Reigning 10,000m Asian champion, Alia Saeed, is fit and ready to compete for top honours in her signature event while hammer thrower Mohamed Omar was replaced in the last minute by middle-distance runner Saud Al Zaabi, who will contest the men’s 1,500m race.
“This change was made last week, when you have really good runners who can participate in World Championships and Olympic Games, the IAAF gives you the chance to field another one, so we were lucky to have the third one and we wanted Mohamed Omar to participate because he’s good,” explained Aouita.
“But the problem is that with the hammer throw, it’s not easy, the field is full. So they asked us to change him with a sprinter or a middle distance runner. So we are sending Saud Al Zaabi from Al Ain. He is not experienced. He is an 800m runner but we are pushing him for the 1,500m because the 800m is a very tough race. So in the 1,500m we thought maybe he can make it to the semi-finals, that would be great. If not, still it would be a very very good experience for him.”
UAE Athletics Federation president Ahmad Al Kamali is hopeful of a strong showing from Saeed and Betty but remains reserved in his predictions.
“It’s the Olympic Games, so the best 17 women in the world will be running the 10,000m and the best 40 in the world will be in the 1,500m. But everyone has a chance,” said Al Kamali.
“I cannot state that either one of the girls will get a medal but I am optimistic that they can be in the lead, especially Alia, because she always turns up for races. She is used to competing in tough races and her time of 31:10 is one of the best five times in the world over 10,000m this year. So everything is possible. I cannot and will not promise a medal but I am optimistic.”
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