x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Garden city springs into life

With 'the Facebook thing', as he puts it, the drivers all 'know what the other is doing at the moment', and Al Barwani is busy with two karting circuits while booked for world championships in Paris in May.

Al Ain football club were in action against Emirates.
Al Ain football club were in action against Emirates.

If you wanted to outdistance the golf-cricket Abu Dhabi combo of two weekends ago, you could always go for the karting-volleyball-football trifecta Al Ain offered on Friday.

Very few people have ever pulled off seeing a karting-volleyball-football trifecta, and it's important to gather distinctions in life.

As all manner of perspiration tumbled through the Garden City by day and evening, two competing friends chatted on a veranda near a victory podium. They are Atef Al Barwani and Hussain Umid Ali, both drivers in the Honda Challenge of the Al Ain Raceway International Karting Circuit, whose various age divisions just completed Round Six.

"We have known each other for a very, very long time," Al Barwani said, even as his friend tries to snare the title Al Barwani strains to defend.

After all the noise and grind of last season, Al Barwani held off everyone, even as Umid Ali stayed "right under my neck, you know", Al Barwani said. With the calibre of drivers rising in the UAE, and with a much-held notion that a young UAE talent might be out there somewhere ripe for launch, a guy like Al Barwani, 30, fights on.

"It's the best," he says. "I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

With "the Facebook thing", as he puts it, the drivers all "know what the other is doing at the moment", and Al Barwani is busy with two karting circuits (also SWS with Dubai Auto Club) while booked for world championships in Paris in May. For now, he also runs third in the Honda Challenge with Umid Ali in first, which matched their finishes on Friday, as Al Barwani's ever-supportive wife Amira and brother Adel looked on.

As the friends and rivals chatted, the wind did get almost what you might even call cold, so you could go down the road and indoors at the Al Ain Sport and Cultural Club gymnasium, where Al Ain played Al Ahli in volleyball, which became that sporting event in which you start inadvertently building the viewing experience around one player.

A marvellous athlete, the Emirati Abdullah Ali shone in the defending league champions Al Ain's 25-13, 25-16, 25-21 victory, given his combination of height and seamless coordination, plus his dynamic serves. Soon, the match did come to resemble certain basketball experiences.

In those, the brain quietly instructs a certain team to pass the ball to a certain player every time up the floor, because the player happens to be so hot that night that you sort of forget to care about even the scoreboard. Here, you would wish for teammates to set up Ali spikes, as if the brain starts mouthing the words: "OK, set it up, set it up."

One time late, he wasn't in the front-line picture, but when a second ball availed itself, he came roaring through the middle for a spike and stamped his effort with a fine - and habitual - guttural sound.

From there, still, you could go back outdoors and down the boulevards to the lights as the edge of the Oman border still brimmed with games. In the Etisalat Cup Group A match, Al Ain played Emirates in Tahnoon bin Mohammed Stadium, and the Al Ain fans made the soundtrack with their uninterrupted chants. You could see all the volleyball and still hear the fans' last crescendo after Yasser Al Qahtani banged in a goalkeeping error on 65 minutes.

Al Ain won 3-0 in a match with an Al Qahtani brace and a preparatory air. The Pro League front-runners prepared to get their offence going ahead of the bout with Al Wahda, and Emirates gave time to younger players ahead of their attempt to climb out of the drop zone from their position of 11th.

While Emirates rested their foreign players by managerial decision, the Al Ain manager Cosmin Olaroiu said he got a desired bridge that went from two shutout defeats of January and over the national-side gap in the schedule.

"It was a match for checking the level of players who just resumed there in the field from the national team and injuries," Olaroiu said. "So they can get self-confidence again, and they have the appetite for scoring."

Asked a question about repeated blunders passing, Olaroiu all but winked and said, "It was the manager's mistake."

He said this, of course, in Romanian, which gave the ears the rare Earth experience of hearing Arabic questions translated into Romanian, then hearing Romanian answers translated back into Arabic. Even in the multinational hub of the UAE, that's almost as unusual as the karting-volleyball-football trifecta although, really, little is as rare as that.

cculpepper@thenational.ae