Seven days of sporting achievement, thousands of athletes and volunteers, dozens of events, countless displays of bravery, and millions of smiles.
As the final curtain falls on Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, the athletes, coaches, families and fans came together to not only celebrate successes on the field of play, but to also look forward to exciting future achievements.
Officials and dignitaries from the UAE and Special Olympics, including His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, as well as Khalfan Mohammad Al Mazrouei, managing director of the event and the president of Liberia, George Weah, led the celebrations.
Held at Zayed Sports City, the spectacular closing ceremony featured amazing performances by global superstars Keala Settle and Nicole Scherzinger.
Scherzinger opened the show with her latest song ‘Victorious’, written especially for the Special Olympics. The evening also saw Khaleeji idol Rashed Al Majed, Iraqi star Waleed Al Shami, and Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri take to the stage.
The stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony seven days earlier, witnessed athletes, coaches and delegations take part in an inspirational parade around the arena as representatives from 200 nations bid a fond farewell to the UAE capital.
A special place at the heart of the closing ceremony was reserved for the scores of volunteers whose commitment and dedication ensured the largest sports and humanitarian event of the year ran smoothly each day.
All eyes in the stadium turned to the giant screens for the World Games Abu Dhabi legacy film. Featuring a host of athletes, fans and famous faces, the short film summarised the seven days of sporting excellence and celebration of the human spirit by promoting a positive story for the future through unity and inclusion.
Athletes from the UAE and Sweden, alongside two Sargent Shriver Global Messengers, conducted the ceremonial handover of the Special Olympics flag to Sweden who will host the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2021.
The Flame of Hope, which had burned brightly in its cauldron at Zayed Sports City since the opening ceremony, officially passed on in a moving ritual. The ceremony came to an end with a performance from Settle.
Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 was one of the largest, most inclusive, most unified, most diverse and most successful World Games in the history of Special Olympics.
Each achievement and much more were celebrated in a huge outpouring of happiness from the artists on stage that echoed displays of joy and emotion from every athlete, coach and spectator inside the stadium.
A local boxing promotion is pulling together a scintillating fight card with a prize pool of AED 50,000.
Emirates Strength Boxing is holding the event, named Fists Will Fly in Dubai, on April 12 and are promising a night of wild action.
Eight heavyweights will take to the ring in tournament format – with the winner having to go through three opponents on the same night to take the crown.
The impressive prize pot, will be split among the fighters, dependent on how far they get – with an extra bonus for the knockout of the night.
The selection process for the event has been meticulous, with a number of tryouts held before the eight to appear is finalized.
Mark Boyd from Emirates Strength Boxing said they are expecting a fantastic night.
“This is going to be a really high quality event. We want to ensure the bouts are well contested and the crowd are well entertained.
“The tournament format is tough, but will really show who the best man on this night it. There is an excellent purse for the fighters – and whoever wins will certainly deserve the payday.
“This will be the first of many events for us, and we want to put on a show.”
Emirates Strength Boxing hold Fists Will Fly in Dubai on April 12 at the Al Habtoor Grand Ballroom, JBR. Tickets are available now, including tables, brunch, and VIP packages, at dubai.platinumlist.net
When it comes to finding the alpha male in sport it’s hard to look past the world of strongman.
Hafthor Bjornsson is very much king of that mountain and says he can stay on top for another decade.
Speaking exclusively to Sport360, the Icelander discussed his drive and desire to be the best in the sport for years to come after sweeping all before him in 2018.
For a man who is such a household name, it’s hard to describe last year as a breakout, but more the culmination of years of hard work and determination from the man also known as The Mountain from Game of Thrones.
In the space of nine months, Bjornsson claimed the four biggest titles in the game – the Arnold Classic, Europe’s Strongest Man, World’s Strongest Man and the World’s Ultimate Strongman – the three global events for the very first time.
For a man with six previous podium finishes at World’s Strongest Man it was the affirmation of his status at the pinnacle of the sport – a position he has no plans to relinquish.
“As long as I stay healthy and injury free I can stay number one for a decade,” he said.
A relatively straightforward win at the Arnold Classic last month, showed no signs of Thor’s dominance being challenged. He took the title by four and a half points from Martins Licis, with Mateusz Kieliszkowski a further nine points back in third. In the world of strongman, this isn’t a gap, it’s chasm.
“I think it showed my will to become better each year, the drive I have and the dedication is paying off,” said Bjornsson. “Even though I won the World Strongest Man title, the Arnold Classic, and the World’s Ultimate Strongman, I am still hungry for more. I am still working my ass off every single day to become better. I won one of the toughest strongman shows in the world quite easily. I didn’t even have to finish the last event, so it went very well for me. I am still improving each year even though I’m the best. I’m not backing off, I want to stay the best.”
A lot of talk beforehand centred around the deadlift event – with sponsors putting up a huge cash prize for anyone who could break to current world record of 500kg – set by long-time rival of Bjornsson, Eddie Hall in 2016.
The 30-year-old Bjornsson won the event with a lift of 474kg, more than 10kg better than second placed Brian Shaw. When the Icelander attempted 501kg, the bar lifted, but not enough for the record – something he is relatively relaxed about.
“I am all about winning titles. I am in this game to win titles. Records are constantly being broken and nobody can take away a title that you have won. I’ve won Europe’s Strongest Man four times, won Iceland’s Strongest Man eight times in a row, won the World’s Strongest Man, The Arnold Classic in Ohio two years in a row – no one can take that away from me, but records are constantly being broken, and I know one day that record will be broken,” said the Reykjavik native.
“I know how strong I am and I know if I would have had a perfect pull on the day in Ohio, I would have got the 501kg. In the pull, I slipped a little with my left foot, and if the pull is not 100%, you are never going to pull that kind of weight. I also know that the other record was done in a suit, that gives you about 30kg – at least. So, I was close to lifting 501, raw, without the suit. I’m pretty confident I am able to pull 501 on a regular bar with a suit.”
To stay on top of the game would be hard enough for a full-time athlete, but for a man who is also busy with acting and other projects – it’s doubly tough.
“It’s extremely challenging at points,” he said. “Let’s say you have to film for 16 hours a day, obviously you have to stay super consistent and you have to have someone there to help you. Whenever I travel for filming, I make sure I have an assistant with me who is always on the clock because if I’m shooting, I can’t be on the clock. I have to have someone there with me to make sure I am eating every two and a half hours. Sometimes it gets that busy that the person with me is basically feeding me between shooting. That’s how dedicated I am, and that’s how badly I want to stay the best.”
Currently in Dubai, Bjornsson has been working with the World’s Ultimate Strongman (WUS) team and their new incubator project.
He lifted the inaugural WUS title last year and is impressed with their latest venture – developing raw strongman talent and turning them into world-level athletes.
Bjornsson recommended Larry Wheels to become the first person to take part in the project and is now seeing the hard work come to fruition.
“This is an amazing program, it is the right direction for the growth of strongman and to bring talent like Larry Wheels who has a great background and who is already strong, but just need some guidance and help to learn the right ways to become a great strongman,” he said.
“I think WUS is doing great things for the world of strongman. They are stepping up the game in every way possible, treating athletes super well and everything is just on top. This is great because the level of strength is growing, the guys are getting stronger, and the sport is getting more popular, so it’s amazing to see what they are doing.
“It’s great place for any athlete to be able to come here and just to train, eat and sleep. WUS are taking athletes who are gifted but are new to the sport. For me, if I would have had an opportunity like this handed to me I would have said straight away ‘yes’. This is the best opportunity any beginner can have.”