ABU DHABI // Nearly 100 young athletes ran and swam their way to victory in a junior duathlon today.
Children between the ages of nine and 16 were put through their paces in two races at the public beach on the Corniche.
Proud parents cheered the 93 competitors on, yelling out their names in encouragement as they made their way around the course and powered across the finish line.
Adding to the excitement, an Olympic gold medal-winning triathlete, Alistair Brownlee, started one of the races and handed out prizes.
The British athlete, who is competing in today's Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, described the children's event as "fantastic".
"It's really important to have kids' races involved in big events like this. Quite often they can get forgotten," he said. "When I was nine years old it was just a swim in the pool and a bike around the local football pitch, so it's good to see it being taken a bit more seriously.
"This is my second time in Abu Dhabi. I like it. It's a nice place to come."
Euan Bell, 14, came second in the category for 13 to 16 year olds, after completing a 300-metre swim and 2.5-kilometre run.
He said it was "really cool" to be started by Brownlee, who happily posed for pictures with young fans.
"I didn't expect to do so well today - everyone looked so big," said Euan, a Briton who lives in Abu Dhabi. "Coming straight from the swim into the run was the hardest bit because I was so puffed."
Rayhaan Guerni won the boys section of the event for nine to 12 year olds, which involved a 200-metre swim and 2km run.
The 11-year-old, who is British and lives in Sharjah, was delighted that he won a bike for his efforts.
"I have been saving for a bike for six months and now I have won one," he said. "I feel very happy, now I can spend my money on something else.
"I enjoyed it. It felt very nice to win. I would like to try the triathlon one day.
Another competitor, Patrick Figgins, 12, who finished in the top 10, was already thinking about future contests after he crossed the finishing line.
"This was my first [duathlon], but it's not going to be my last," said the Briton, who travelled with his family from Oman to take part in the event.
Sultan Al Muhairi, of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, which is behind the duathlon and the flagship Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, said the turnout and the support from friends and family sent a "strong message".
"The growth of any sport needs to happen well at the grass roots level and we hope this event today has helped create the green shoots for this future," he added.
"It would be great to have one of our kids competing to go on to be an Abu Dhabi International Triathlon winner one day. This is what it is all about."