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Bethlem Belayneh, left, and Alia Saeed, runners from the United Arab Emirates, represent the country's best chance at a medal.
Bethlem Belayneh, left, and Alia Saeed, runners from the United Arab Emirates, represent the country's best chance at a medal.

Asian Athletics Championships: UAE has big hopes for Khalifa Ibrahim

Sprinter looks to gain experience, but emirates best hopes' for medals lie with Alia Saeed and Bethlem Desaleyn, writes Paul Radley.

UAE athletics will get a glimpse of the future this week when Khalifa Ibrahim, a 16-year-old sprinter, is pitched into major international competition for the first time.

The teenaged athlete will represent the national team in the 200m and 400m at the Asian Athletics Championships, which starts on Wednesday in Pune, India.

The UAE Athletics Federation have granted the Al Nasr Club sprinter his debut at a senior championships with a view to greater tests to come in the immediate future at junior level.

Having run 49.10 seconds earlier this year, Ibrahim was well inside the A-time qualifying standard of 49.95 stipulated for the 2013 World Youth Championships, to be staged in Ukraine later this month.

As such, the powers that be in the sport here wanted to expose him to a higher level of competition by way of preparation for his trip to Donetsk.

"He is very much a junior but we just wanted to give him a chance before the World Junior Championships," said Ahmed Al Kamali, the president of the UAE Athletics Federation.

"I think he will run a good time in Ukraine. We want to give him a good chance to prepare with his coach, watch the event, run in the event and generally get a feeling for it before the world championships."

Ibrahim is one of a relatively small UAE contingent in Pune this week.

There are five UAE entrants in a championships which numbers 577 competitors. Along with Ibrahim, there are two other male athletes from the Emirates. Saood Abdulkarim will go in the 400m and 400m hurdles, while Jassim Mustafa, 19, a jumper from Al Nasr Club, is the lone field athlete.

"We have brought the best of the best here, not just people to go into the heats then go," Al Kamali said.

"We want people here who have a chance of qualifying for finals."

The country's most likely chance of medalling lies with the two female athletes Alia Saeed and Bethlem Desaleyn.

The Ethiopia-born Desaleyn, 22, was the UAE sole female representative at last year's Olympic Games in London.

She has the second fastest personal best time on the entry list for the 1,500m in Pune, and Kamali expects her to be amongst the contenders.

"I feel that she will be close to a medal in the 1,500m. In fact, I would not be very surprised if she won two medals," he said.

pradley@thenational.ae

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