ABU DHABI // Adil Khalid, the Olympic yachtsman, was chosen over more than 120 of his Emirati compatriots for a place on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht for the Volvo round the world competition that begins in October.
Khalid, 22, has become accustomed to making history during his short time on the high seas; in Beijing in 2008 he became the first Emirati yachtsman to compete in the Olympics and since then has won the National and Saudi championships in the Laser class.
The Dubai-born sailor, who took up the sport in 2000, was unanimously selected by a three-man panel and the team's English skipper Ian Walker.
Two Abu Dhabi applicants - Abdul Aziz Abdulla, 28, and Butti Ahmed al Muhairi, 26 - had made the final shortlist of three.
"This is a dream come true for me," Khalid said. "I am so proud to be representing my country in an international event as important as this one. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for me and I want to thank everybody involved for enabling it to happen.
"I regard this as a fantastic vote of confidence in me and I intend to live up to that to the very best of my ability."
The announcement was made at Emirates Palace hotel by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, the team principal of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
He said: "The final selection went down to the wire and in the end Adil Khalid was the unanimous choice. We congratulate him on this achievement.
"All three contenders were worthy finalists but Adil had the edge in terms of sailing experience as well as his development potential.
"The search for the UAE national to represent us in this challenge has been extensive, in depth and highly competitive. This exhaustive process was necessary because the race demands and standards are exceptionally high, as are our own aspirations."
After more than 100 of the original list of applicants had been eliminated, 25 remaining hopefuls were subjected to what was described by yesterday's event host Mohammed al Balooshi, of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), as a regime of "blood, sweat and nearly tears".
The list of candidates then became 12, then five and ultimately three. Khalid expressed sympathy for his two friends, Abdulla and al Murairhi, who stood with him on the podium hoping their name would be in the sealed envelope.
"It is sad for them but a really happy day for me," he said.
Khalid said he has been pushed to the limit by having to prove that he can occupy five different roles on the yacht when it sets off from the Spanish port of Alicante in October for the gruelling voyage which for the first time includes Abu Dhabi as a stopover port at the end of December.
He said he found the going extremely tough at times after his sessions as bow, pit, trimmer grinder and helmsman, but there was never a thought of giving up. The reward was too great.
Walker, who is now close to completing the 11-man crew for the 37,000 nautical miles race, was impressed with Khalid's credentials.
The experienced skipper sat in on all the interviews during the closing stages of the selection process and said: "He was the one out of all of them who has done the most international sailing.
"You don't go to the Olympics unless you are a very good sailor and we are glad to have him on board."
Walker, 37, said that Abdulla and al Muhairi, though disappointed yesterday, may still have a part to play. "We need to consider having a reserve and there is still the make-up of our shore team to be determined," he said.
Mubarak al Muhairi, the ADTA's director general, sat on the selection panel with Ahmed Thani al Rumaithi, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Sailing Club, and Saeed Hareb, the president of the Marine Sports Federation.
Explaining their unanimous decision, al Muhairi said: "Adil Khalid stood out in terms of experience, steadfastness and single-mindedness. He now has a unique opportunity to set up to a whole new class of sailing.
"We will invest in Adil to ensure his readiness for this ultimate maritime challenge."