The Arab Athletics Championships got underway in Syria yesterday, with the UAE's Auob Sirwash setting a new national record in the 20km walk event - the opening day's only final. Not considered to be a realistic medal hope at the Damascus showpiece, Sirwash's personal best of one hour, 43.50seconds nonetheless secured him sixth place in the hotly-contested walk discipline. "It was a great effort and he is improving all the time," said Ahmed al Kamali, the UAE Athletics Federation president.
The UAE sent a 12-strong team to Syria, and - following the opening ceremony yesterday afternoon - two of the country's solid medal hopes were in action last night. Majid Abbas, however, failed to read the script. Viewed as a genuine 110m hurdles prospect, Abbas could only manage a disappointing fifth in his semi-final heat - missing out a place in today's final. Meanwhile, sprinters Omar Juma, a 200m specialist who qualified for August's world championships in Berlin, and Hussein Rostem were in action in the 100m semi-finals.
Gold medal contender Juma romped home first in his heat, registering an unconfirmed time of 10.22secs - a new UAE record. Rostem, third in his heat, joins Juma in today's eight-man final. "We're expecting medals and Omar has not let us down," said al Kamali. In the yesterday's late-night semi-finals, Jasim Saeed - a "strong medal hope", according to al Kamali - was due to line up in the men's 400m, before joining Rostem and the Juma brothers, Omar and Bilal, in the 4x100m.
The finals of the men's 110m hurdles and 100m, as well as the 400m and 4x100m events, take place tonight, while Mohammed Omar is also eyeing podium glory in the men's hammer discipline. firstname.lastname@example.org