Dubai is once again at the centre of the strongman world – by helping develop the next big names in strength sport.
On the back of last year’s successful World’s Ultimate Strongman event, organisers have announced a new incubator programme designed to grow some of strength sport’s biggest talents from all over the world and put them on the path to competing at the very highest level.
Those taking part will initially be based in Dubai for a ‘training camp’ as the WUS team looks to turn promising amateurs into professionals. Backed by Dubai Sport Council, the athletes will live, eat, train and breathe strongman, under the guidance of the WUS team and Emirates Strength.
The first candidate is Larry Wheels. He has been recommended by current WUS champion and World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson, who recently trained with Larry and instantly recognized his potential.
The American is known as a social media sensation with more than 1.2m followers across his YouTube and Instagram channels, and is a strength sport phenom.
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.