There will be a rare sight on the vulcanised rubber runway at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford this morning.
Cynics might suggest the vision of an Emirati athlete challenging a world-class field in an elite competition is precious enough.
But this is about as rare as rain in Dubai in July. Mohammed Abbas Darwish, the triple jumper who is the lone male track and field competitor from the UAE, will be wearing shoes.
Most of the time, he does not bother with them. It is a stipulation of his coach, Svetoslav Topuzov, the Bulgarian who has overseen Darwish’s emergence as a jumper of substance over the past three years.
The sight of the two of them doing laps of the training field barefoot is a disconcerting one. Initially, Topuzov tries to plead poverty. “We don’t have money,” the coach says. “No, no, this is joke!”
For the duration of his highly successful coaching career, Topuzov, who trained Tereza Marinova to gold in the women’s triple jump at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has been a sworn advocate of barefoot training.
“It is Chinese medicine,” he says, suggesting the massaging effects of lush grass on the soles of the feet works in a similar way to acupuncture.
When he introduced his methods to Darwish on their first meeting when he arrived in the UAE in 2009, he met a ready disciple.
“The first time I came to training with him I brought shoes, obviously, but he said we will train without them,” Darwish says.
“All the time I am without shoes anyway. When I am out playing [football] near my home, out in the sand, I am without shoes.
“When I came to training I thought I must bring my shoes. He said train without them, so I said, ‘Oh, this is much better’. I like it, it is cool.”
The coach and protege are a perfect match. The lack of state of the art running spikes are a clue to the fact they prefer the basic things in life. Darwish does not have an email address. He cannot be bothered with computers.
Topuzov, meanwhile, has to write his own email address down in the back of his notebook, on account of the fact he always forgets it. If he is without said notebook, he has to call his wife to find out what it is. Not that he rates telephones too highly, either.
Not surprisingly, the Bulgarian coach values the most basic principals when it comes to training, too. Namely, there is no substitute for hard work.
“From time to time in training, Mohammed can make miracles,” Topuzov says. “He can make a good result, but he needs to train like a professional.
“The problem [in the UAE] is the lack of professional thinking. Maybe for one week they are working good, then for the next 10 days they say they are tired.
“Now he has begun working differently. I hope he can stay like that, because next year I think he will be very, very close to 17 metres. I am sure.”
Darwish is appearing at these Games on a wild-card invitation, although his personal best is only five centimetres less than the B standard to qualify for this competition.
Naturally, it is the biggest stage he has competed on to date, but he is confident he will not be overawed by the challenge.
Two years ago, at the Asian Games in China, the triple jump event ran concurrently with the 110m hurdles final.
As such, the 70,000-capacity stadium was in a frenzy as Liu Xiang, China’s world and Olympic champion hurdler, returned to form by claiming a third Asian Games gold and breaking the competition record in the process.
“This is not the first time [he has performed in front of such a significant crowd],” says Darwish, who is a product of Al Wasl club in Dubai.
“When we were in China the stadium was full to see their Olympic and world champion in the 110m hurdles.
“As soon as anyone did anything, the whole stadium made a huge noise like, ‘woo’. When that happens you feel your heart is dancing.
“It gives you emotion which can lift you, but if there is too much emotion you have to slow down.
“You have to be somewhere in the middle.”
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