Team GB athletes made their way to Dubai Sports City athletics track to inspire the next generation of Olympic hopefuls.
Ultimate Athletics held the ultimate race night for Dubai’s young athletes in a number of events including the hurdles, high jump, javelin and 800 metre events.
Coaching the youngsters during the evening on behalf of Team GB was former double 400m European junior champion Laviai Nielsen. “I’m very impressed by the event, you don’t really think about sport in Dubai unless you’re here but there’s some real talent on show,” the 21-year-old told Sport360°.
“They’re taking it really seriously, maybe we’ll see some of these kids at the next Olympics.” As for her own Olympic dreams, Nielsen has her sights set on Tokyo 2020 having narrowly missed out on Rio.
“Tokyo is the aim so I’m just taking things one step at a time because I’m focused on the European Championships in August, then the World Championships next year to look forward to as well.”
For Nielsen, training is slotted in around her studies. “Training varies throughout the year but I do four or five hours of training a day so it’s quite intense,” added Nielsen, whose twin sister Lina is also a sprinter.
“But the nice thing about the 400m is that it varies a lot throughout the year, I do three gym sessions and three track sessions a week so it’s a combination of endurance, speed and speed endurance.
“I’m still at university and in my last year, so it’s very stressful and there’s a lot of sacrifices to be made and you have to be disciplined. I’m so excited to be done though. “University is very different but it does offer me an escape because training is so intense, I like having an escape from it with my education.”
A notable winner from the Ultimate Athletics was 14-year-old Megan Dingle who won the 800m in a time of 2:20:49. “In Dubai there’s good competition at this distance but I actually prefer the 1500m,” said the Dubai English Speaking College student. “I really enjoy running because there’s a great community of people doing it, and we all get along because we have similar interests. The big dream is the Olympics so I’ll keep aiming for that.”
Former European junior 200m silver medalist Leon Reid was part of the star-studded coaching staff at hand and was left thoroughly impressed with the talent on show. “It’s crazy competitive here, there’s cameras on the finish line and the kids are dipping for the finish.
It’s good fun and it seems to get better every year. The parents are really encouraging of the kids and if they want to build champions then they’re certainly going the right way about it.”
Reid will be competing for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next month, and says a trip to the UAE has been the perfect tonic for a gruelling schedule. “I’ve got three part-time jobs, I work in a night club, I work in a school coaching kids and a supplement shop as well so I have to train on not a lot of sleep.
“I get up and train at around 10am until 1pm usually and then go to the school and from there I’ll have three hours before the nightclub work and when I’m not training I’ll be in the shop.
“It’s pretty exhausting so you can imagine how pleased I was to come here because it’s kind of a training holiday for me in many ways. I’ve got a lot of downtime because I train in the morning from 8am until 12pm so then we’ve got the time to do what we want.”
Ultimate Athletics has been running since 2015 and educates athletics with theory workshops as well as access to sports science-qualified coaches, nutritionists and physiotherapists.
2017 was a banner year for sports. There were women’s World Cups in both cricket and rugby, performances that saw two men pad their resumes for the title of “greatest of all time” in tennis and athletics, and a legend who once declared himself the greatest called time on a storied career.
So picking the winners for our Sporting Oscars wasn’t easy, with several superlative performers staking their claims. In the end, it came down to five truly great stars who lit up 2017 with their displays.
Without further ado, the Oscars go to…
Actor in a leading role – Roger Federer (Comeback)
Federer entered 2017 seeming like a spent force. He was 35, hadn’t won a Grand Slam in nearly five years, and had missed the latter half of the previous season to injury. Even for him, a successful comeback seemed like a step too far.
How wrong we were. The Swiss great cemented his status as the greatest men’s tennis player of all time, starring in the Australian Open and Wimbledon to add to his current collection of 20 Grand Slam titles. His thrilling victory over Rafael Nadal in the final in Melbourne deserves a movie of its own.
He should also win the award for best original screenplay – because who else could write this script? No one. Federer writes his own scripts, then stars in them.
Best supporting actor – Kevin De Bruyne (Assist King)
This award can only go to one person: Europe’s new assist king. De Bruyne was solid in the first half of 2017, ensuring Manchester City made the top four.
The goalscorers usually milk the headlines because they’re always the stars of the show, but De Bruyne’s body of work for City over the past 12 months outshines his teammates, as he continues to excel in setting them up for glory.
His manager Pep Guardiola believes he’s second only to Lionel Messi in the list of best players in the world, and while that might be a slight exaggeration, there’s no overstating how good De Bruyne was in 2017.
Actress in a leading role – Portia Woodman (NZ in Rugby World Cup)
Imagine scoring eight tries in one game, and that being only your second-best performance of a tournament.
That’s what Portia Woodman did. Eight tries against Hong Kong in New Zealand’s dominant 121-0 win, and then four tries in the semi-final against the USA.
Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old topped the tournament tables for tries (13) as well as points (65).
New Zealand went on to beat England 41-32 in an enthralling final in Belfast.
Best supporting actress – Anya Shrubsole (England in Cricket World Cup)
Player of the match in a World Cup final. It’s the sort of performance people dream of, and on July 23, 2017, England’s Anya Shrubsole produced one of the most memorable displays in women’s cricket history.
Six wickets, and a run-out, saw Shrubsole lead England to a thrilling win in a match where they seemed down and out, as for much of the final it seemed like India were in cruise control.
But her tight, accurate bowling induced panic in the Indian ranks, leading to an epic collapse that handed England the cup.
Other players had better tournaments overall, but on the day that mattered most, Shrubsole reigned supreme.
Best picture – New England’s comeback against Atlanta (Super Bowl 2017)
28-3. That scoreline will go down in the annals of Super Bowl history as no team with such a comprehensive lead had gone on to lose an NFL title.
Of course, no other team has had to face Tom Brady when in a comfortable winning position. The Atlanta Falcons came up against the greatest player of all time – and the 40-year-old crushed their dreams while inspiring the Pats to a comeback win.
As Pats reeled their way back into the contest, the Falcons froze like a deer in headlights. A dropped catch by Julio Jones, arguably the NFL’s best receiver, and then a bizarre play call when the Falcons could have run down the clock gave Brady a chance to take the game to overtime. The rest, as they say, is history.
Best director – Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane won the Champions League in his first full season in charge of Real Madrid. How was he supposed to top that?
The Frenchman led Los Blancos to their first La Liga victory in five years 12 months later, and then topped it off by retaining the Champions League title in the same month – no team had ever won the European crown twice in a row.
It was also Real Madrid’s first league and European double in 59 years.
A director’s role is to get stars to perform their roles as best as they can, and to ensure the whole team is staying on script.
In 2017, Zidane showed the world how that’s done, guiding the Bernabeu outfit to five trophies.
Honorary Award – Usain Bolt
“I am the greatest.” That’s what Usain Bolt said after clinching his third gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – the third time he’d won three golds at an Olympic Games.
The Jamaican sprint king called time on his glittering career in 2017, bowing out in heartbreaking fashion with a hamstring injury in the 4x100m relay at the World Championships.
Three days before his injury, he’d slipped to a bronze in his last-ever 100m race. Not every sports legend gets the perfect ending.
But what he achieved over the course of his career meant that when he uttered those famous words in Brazil, there weren’t many who questioned the sincerity of his claim.
It was a phrase first made famous by Muhammad Ali. Bolt deserves his place alongside the boxer in the pantheon of legendary athletes.
Mo Farah has a running CV few match and many athletes can only dream of.
But, now, his previous accomplishments don’t count for a lot as he kick-starts a new chapter, a different career if you like, from scratch.
Switching from 5,000m and 10,000m competition to the marathon distance is far from a seamless transition, even for someone as talented as the 34-year-old.
The perception might be that the four-time Olympic gold medallist, who retired from his golden career on the track after last year’s World Championships in London, should soon be up there competing among the world’s elite marathoners.
If only it was as simple as that.
Sunday’s victory in the inaugural Vitality Big Half in London for Farah, however, is a huge confidence-booster ahead of his participation as the headline act – alongside Eliud Kipchoge – in next month’s London Marathon.
The home favourite was expected to be fastest through the streets of the English capital given the field wasn’t stacked but in cold conditions he still had to do the business across the 13.1 mile distance. He came home in 1:01:40, far from his 59:22 best but a bit of a statement.
The win felt like Farah had stepped out of the shadows, given his last major event and success came in last September’s Great North Run. After that, in October, he split from controversial coach Alberto Salazar, with allegations around the American dragging Farah’s name through the mud.
When it comes to tackling the marathon, Farah is still very much a work in progress. It seems crazy to say that given all his experience but it’s a different ball game. Farah’s first and only marathon to date came in London back in 2014 when he finished eighth and was well off the pace. He won’t be looking for a repeat of that this April.
The Briton has let it be known that his burning ambition is to prove himself over 26.2 miles while his £1m pay packet to run in Sunday’s half and the full marathons in London this year and 2019 make even more good reason to do so.
Talk of whether he will run for Team GB at the 2020 Olympics in Japan is very premature, given he stated last August he didn’t want to represent his country again in a running vest.
He has plenty of work to do before that. It will take Farah some effort to improve significantly on his 2:08:21 showing in London four years ago. To reach the podium, the now London-based runner would need to shave off around four minutes at least and contend with Kipchoge – the man and marathoner pushing the sport to new limits, as we saw last year following his Breaking2 feat with Nike.
Farah isn’t going to keep on running just to make up the numbers and not winning is something he isn’t used to. So, as such, it feels like the next six weeks or so are a real crunch point in a remarkable career.