ABU DHABI // Khalifa Al Qubaisi is hoping a strong performance in the judo World Championships will improve his chances of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.
Al Qubaisi has taken part in two previous World Championships but has never got beyond the second round.
But he wants to turn it around this time, when he travels to France with his younger teammate, Hemeed Al Derie, with the aim of qualifying for the London Games.
Al Qubaisi, who won the gold medal in the Armed Forces Officers Club (AFOC) Ramadan Festival, and Al Derie, the bronze medallist in the same 73kg-and-under weight division, will leave for the World Championships from August 23 to 28.
"Competitions like the AFOC Ramadan Festival provided us with an excellent practice opportunity ahead of our travel to France," Al Qubaisi said. "It was a strong competition with several top contestants from the Gulf and the Middle East."
"The biggest setback we have here is a lack strong competitions for the Emirati fighters and contests like the AFOC Festival help, but need to have more if we want to improve."
Al Qubaisi outclassed Yousef Dashti of Kuwait to claim the gold. Al Derie, who was competing at a heavier weight than in his usual 66kg category, lost to the Kuwaiti in the semi-final.
Sergey Saveliev, the national team coach from Belarus, is optimistic of their chances of qualifying for the London Olympics.
"The International Judo Federation have allocated nine spots [to Asia] and also have wild cards, so I feel Khalifa and Hemeed stand good chances to qualify if they can accumulate enough points by participating in as many ranking competitions," he said.
The World Championships will be followed by the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi in October, and the World Cups in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan the following month. And the two Emiratis plan to take part in all of them. "I hope I can do better than the previous two appearances and this time there is the added incentive of qualifying for the London Olympics," Al Qubaisi said. "If I can fulfil my ambitions, it will be good for the sport."
Al Qubaisi hopes to raise the profile of judo in the country. He said: "If I can qualify for the Olympics, it will do a world of good for the sport. It will take judo to a new level and create more awareness of the sport among the country's youth."
Al Derie was fifth in the Asian Championships in 2009 and was a silver medallist at the West Asian Championships. France will be his first World Championships.
He considers the AFOC Festival an important step in his preparations for France.
"France is a hot spot for the sport, only second to Japan," Al Derie said. "No doubt it is going to be tough, but I hope to do my best. In judo, all are equal, whether a black belt or white belt. It is the best fighter on the day."
Al Qubaisi, 25, will compete in the 73kg weight division and Al Derie, 20, in the 66kg category. They are both black belts and have been involved in judo for more than a decade.
The Emirati fighters ended with a gold and two bronze medals at the Festival, Mohammed Adil Al Amrou being the other bronze medal winner in the 66kg and under division for the UAE.
Algeria topped the judo medal table with four golds, two silvers and a bronze, followed by Kuwait with a gold, two silvers and a bronze. Abdulsalam Aroos won Tunisia's solitary gold in the open weight.