Ali Obaid Shirook will be surrounded by some of the most glamourous names in athletics at the World Championships in Berlin, but the UAE hurdler has no plans to carry his scrapbook along to the Olympic Stadium. The Dubai Police warrant officer, 29, will not be looking starry-eyed over his shoulder for a sight of the Usain Bolts or Tyson Gays. Instead, he will be focused on the track ahead, trying to make the most of an historic moment for himself and his country.
"I am not going there to shake hands with the big stars, take their autographs or click photographs with them," said Shirook, who took up the sport just five years ago and is now the Gulf 400m and 400m hurdles champion. "I will be representing my country and my job will be to bring honour to UAE athletics. I will be focused solely on that." Shirook will be running the 400m hurdles, having put his name in the record books as one of the country's first athletes, along with Omar Juma al Salfa, to qualify for the World Championships.
He achieved the feat with a run of 49.66secs to win the 400m hurdles at the 12th GCC Championships in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, earlier this year. That time, of course, does not figure prominently among the world's best. The fastest for the event this year is LJ van Zyl's 47.94secs at the Monaco Super Grand Prix last month. The South African is being tipped to challenge the supremacy of the Americans, who have won the last three world titles in the event. Three former champions - Kerron Clement, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson - will be in Berlin, along with Jamaica's Isa Phillips and the evergreen Felix Sanchez.
Shiroo runs his first heat on Saturday night and is hoping to reach the semi-finals at least. "After that, my goal will be to make it to the final round," he said. "Once there, I will be trying my best to get a medal. I am feeling good and I think I can do something in Berlin." Shirook's coach, Issa Atallah, shares his optimism and said: "I believe he can reach the semi- finals and even make the final. I am confident he can do it. He is a very good athlete, a natural. He is also very intelligent and plans his races very well."
Atallah has been with Shirook for his entire athletics career, having plucked him off a football pitch five years ago to change his destiny forever. "He used to play football at the Dubai Police Officers Club," said Atallah, 46. "I saw the way he was running around and told myself this guy will be very good for track and field. "I spoke with him and tried to convince him about moving to track and field. He said, 'let me see'. When he finally came, he liked it and started enjoying it as the training progressed.
"In this short span, he has become the UAE and Gulf champion. I always knew he could do it. When you look at his physique and see him is running, you know he is different; you know he is special." firstname.lastname@example.org