x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

An Emirati runner's vision down the road

After retiring at the end of year, Fahad bin Breik will focus his efforts on producing long-distance runners in the UAE, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Fahad bin Breik will retire after failing to qualify for the 2012 London Games. Christopher Pike / The National
Fahad bin Breik will retire after failing to qualify for the 2012 London Games. Christopher Pike / The National

Stripped right down, all running can be said to be about persistence. Long distance running is especially so because after a point it becomes purely about the capacity of a human being to just keep going when everything is telling him or her to stop.

At the start of this year, Fahad bin Breik was doing all he could to make it to the 2012 London Olympics to run in the 10,000m.

It was not just the physical obstacle of having to qualify by running under 28 minutes, 10 seconds that he was up against. That was quicker than his personal best, but a few illustrious Kenyan runners and coaches thought he was good enough to do it if he could get the right kind of training in.

Ultimately it all fell apart because he could not get time off from his job to go and train in Kenya first and then to try to qualify through some races in Europe.

Until the very last minute of the cut-off dates for qualification in June, he maintained a little hope and trained as best he could in Dubai, but ultimately he could not make it to the qualifying races.

There was a little discontent with the UAE Athletics Federation (UAEAF) for not helping him obtain the permissions to train, but he was not angry or bitter about it. He still is not.

Now he has just redirected his persistence – and to be a long-distance runner in a country such as the UAE, where it has no developed culture as such, requires persistence of a macro-kind – into a different direction.

He had said at the time that if he could not make the Olympics he would quit running, which he is doing.

This December he runs his last 10k race in France.

But he is not quitting really. Because now, as he said from Mombasa, Kenya, he wants those "coming up after me to get what I couldn't get".

As the ground zero for long-distance running, Kenya has long had a unique hold on Bin Breik.

He won an 8km race on the Mombasa coast on one of his first visits in a strong field and has been a regular visitor, for training stints mostly.

He now wants to translate his relationship with Kenya into producing long-distance runners from the UAE, which sounds twice as audacious as it actually is.

It began with one trip last December, when he visited Mombasa's Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (President of the UAE) Secondary and Technical school, and asked whether they had a sports day of any kind.

They said no and so he offered to help them organise one (Bin Breik has the zeal of a teacher). So he did, on September 6 this year, a wildly successful event which saw more than 5,000 children participate in a number of athletics events.

So successful was it that he was inundated with calls afterwards asking him why he was not arranging another sports day, this time open to all schools in the city.

This is why he is currently there, for the launch of this sports day which he is planning to hold in August next year.

There will be races across several distances, including a separate 10k run open to all the country's top runners.

He plans to take some youngsters from the UAE to participate next year but the longer-term aim is the one to keep an eye on.

"I've trained in Kenya so much and I'm on good terms with them," he said.

"Events such as this I was thinking will help us.

"Tomorrow if I can bring three or four athletes from the UAE to come and train with me here – and Kenya is a school for athletics, just like Brazil is in football – who knows maybe that can produce some quality runners."

In itself, Bin Breik's is a remarkable story of the amateur drive for sport, and what he is doing now – however it works out – even more so. When he used to travel to Iten, the little village in Kenya's west that has produced big running names, for training, he funded his own trips.

He also rented a separate flat in Dubai, living away from his family to immerse himself in his spartan training regime. He is funding these sports days out of his own pocket.

His is a crazy kind of ambition, one underpinned by a dedication that should really be the stuff of small-time legend, and also, of course, persistence.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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