Teenager Aseel Akram Abu Ghali may be British, of Libyan origin, but through his love for the Emirati rifle-spinning dance Al Youlah, he has found a culture and community he relates to more than his own.
The 15-year-old first learned of the traditional dance on the TV channel Al Sama Dubai that broadcasts the Fazza Championship of Al Youlah live from Meydan every Friday.
And since then, he was entranced by it.
“The first time I watched Al Youlah was back in 2009. It was one of the Arabic channels we used to get back in England and when I saw them dancing with rifles, I thought they looked very cool and from then on, I just started following the championship,” said Akram.
Even though he was enjoying watching the stellar performances on television, Akram never thought of taking up the sport himself and was busy with hobbies and extra-curricular activities of his own, like basketball and horse-riding.
The teen only became serious about training for Al Youlah after he moved to the UAE with his family, which eventually opened up opportunities and outlets for him to practice the sport.
He said, “When I moved to the UAE, there was a national day celebration in my school, Gems Wellington Academy, and I saw kids doing Al Youlah. Then I went to Global Village and finally got my own replica rifle.
“Initially I was just playing around, but it was only after 2016 that I began taking it very seriously.”
Since Al Youlah is an exclusively Emirati sport, the teenager raised a few eyebrows in his family when he told them of his intention of participating in the Championship.
Despite the mild opposition he received from his family, Akram was welcomed with open arms in the Youlah community and under the guidance of mentors like Rashid Al Khasouni, he was able to hone his talent.
“When I first told my family, my father and my aunts did not really understand why I wanted to get involved with Youlah. It is a Gulf tradition, so it was quite boggling for them that why a North African raised in England would want to do this, but the sport and community is great and I have never felt like an outsider with them,” said Akram.
“Consistency is of utmost importance with Youlah. Consistency and focus; you really have to give 100 per cent in Al Youlah.
“There are so many things you have to take care of during your performance, like making sure your ghutra (traditional headgear) doesn’t fall off which can cost you a lot of points.”
He further added: “You have to have good footwork and also spin your rifle at the same time. For me the hardest part was the throws and making sure that they hit the 17m or the 20m mark.
“When you toss it in the air, you also have to be careful that you don’t lose your balance and fall while trying to run to catch it. It’s a very technical sport and requires intense training.”
The Al Youlah dances have been a long-standing tradition in UAE culture and under the patronage of H.H Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, these dances have become a major sporting event for the Emirati community as part of the initiative of deepening the sense of national identity among the younger generation of Emiratis and promoting Emirati culture, values and traditions at both a regional and international level.
It is because of these very efforts from Sheikh Hamdan and the HHC (Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center) that the platform is open for all nationalities and youngsters like Aseel Akram have equal opportunities to showcase their talents.
The championship is currently in its seventh episode and and is broadcast live on Sama Dubai from Meydan in the UAE pavilion at Global Village every Friday at 21:00 GST.
ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon organisers have revealed an exciting first wave of world class runners who will take part in the elite race, which is being held for the first time in the UAE capital this December.
The field will include the new world half marathon record holder, Abraham Kiptum, from Kenya, as well as Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, the 10,000m silver medalist at the 2015 IAAF World Championships, world champion at the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and world indoor champion at the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships.
“The UAE is proud to welcome elite athletes from across the globe to join us for the inaugural ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon,” said His Excellency Aref Al Awani, the general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
“These athletes are at the top of their game and we hope it will inspire the wider community to take part in the different race categories.”
The race takes place on December 7 with Kiptum and Burka two of four elite stars announced on Sunday.
Kiptum claimed his half marathon title a week ago in the Valencia Half Marathon, boasting an incredible record time of 58:18. Kiptum also won the 2018 Daegu Marathon and achieved his best performance at the 2017 Amsterdam Marathon completed with a time of 2:05:26.
Also in the elite men’s section will be compatriot Stanley Biwott, winner of the world-renowned 2015 New York City marathon. Biwott earned his first major marathon victory in 2015, crossing the line in 2:10:32, 14 seconds ahead of his competition.
At the 2016 London Marathon he ran a career best of 2:03:51 with his performance making him one of 10 men to run a sub 2 hours 4 minutes marathon.
Representing the elite women alongside Burka is Eunice Chumba Chebichii, of Bahrain. She was the 10,000m silver medalist at the 2018 Asian Games and 2015 Asian Athletics Championships.
She is currently ranked as the 19th all-time best runner in half marathon history with a record time of 1:06:11, which she achieved during the Copenhagen Half Marathon in 2017.
These are just four of the athletes who will race in the ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon. They will also be promoting healthy and active lifestyles to the capital’s residents and encouraging the community to get involved in this historic sporting event.
The full line-up of runners will be announced at a press conference on December 6 and will be attended by the athletes.
There is still time to join in and take part in the various race categories. For more information visit www.adnocabudhabimarathon.com.
Hafthor Bjornsson is the World’s Ultimate Strongman.
The Icelandic superstar beat off competition from the very best in the world to lift the inaugural WUS title at the Bab al Shams Arena in Dubai on Friday.
This crowns an incredible 2018 for the man known as the Mountain from Game of Thrones as he adds to his World’s Strongest Man, Arnold Classic, and Europe’s Strongest Man victories.
Along with the prestige of winning the first hosting of the event, Bjornsson collected prize money of $70,000 – the biggest purse ever for a strongman event.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the man who tips the scales at over 200kg however.
The six-foot eight-inch tall Bjornsson found himself outside the top three after the first two events, but was in devastating form over the final four, eventually taking the title by two and a half points from US-rival, and four-time World’s Strongest Man, Brian Shaw.
Bjornsson had been content with his truck pull, but had slipped out of the placings after the arm over arm pull.
However, it was a spectacular performance in the silver-dollar deadlift that truly sparked his competition into life.
He lifted an incredible 520kg, matched only by eight-time Canada’s Strongest Man, JF Caron.
The feat was just 16kg short of the world record set by Eddie Hall.
Next up was the overhead medley, four devastatingly heavy objects to be pressed above the head – a 160kg log, 100kg dumbbell, a 160kg axel, and a 140kg shield.
Having watched most of his contemporaries struggle to complete the course, Bjornsson powered through it with relative ease to take maximum points and put himself in the box seat.
From here came the 580kg yoke carry. Britain’s Laurence Shahlaei, a yoke carrier of real pedigree, had set the time to beat on the event with a rapid run, as again many of the other competitors struggled to complete the course with such a heavy object.
Bjornsson was up against Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski in the final heat of the event.
Kieliszkowski has placed fourth in the last two World’s Strongest Man events, and is known for his speed and athleticism despite his huge size.
The pair would be neck-and-neck along the course and eventually joined the Englishman Shahlaei in the top three for the event.
This gave Bjornsson effectively an unassailable lead going into the final event – the Atlas Stones.
Again this was the heaviest run of stones ever seen with the heaviest of the five being a monstrous 225kg.
Scotland’s Tom Stoltman was the only man to have completed all five going into the final pair – Bjornsson and Shaw.
While Shaw would rattle through them, the Icelander would take his time knowing four stones would secure the victory.
He duly completed four to lift the title.