x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emirati women set a precedent

All seven participants, making their debut on the international stage, lost their first-round games at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championships. All of them, however, declared they would return stronger for the next staging of the event in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The Emirati women's jiu-jitsu team gained much-needed exposure from their first international competition last night.

All seven participants, making their debut on the international stage, lost their first-round games at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championships. All of them, however, declared they would return stronger for the next staging of the event in Abu Dhabi.

"Our biggest challenge was to get on stage in an event telecast live and in front of a big international audience. We have overcome that hurdle," said Rachida Mubarak Belfakir, after her defeat to Megan Lomonof, of the United States, in the white/blue 63kg and under weight division at the National Exhibition Centre yesterday.

"We all knew the fights would be very, very tough. Yet we wanted to get on stage and fight against opponents with more experience. We are not exposed to such training but we want to change that culture and become athletes by our own.

"This championship was a learning curve for all of us. All of us realised how much work we need to put in to reach the level at which we just competed. I think we got about 30 per cent experience from these fights.

"I would like to think we are on the right path and with more intense training, we will reach a good level. It is up to us now to increase our workload and then keep improving by participating in competitions regularly."

Belfakir has ambitions of becoming a black belt and to compete in the World Professional championship. She has trained about a year and has participated two local competitions, winning a silver medal and a bronze.

"We are a group of friends and we are very serious of pursuing a career in jiu-jitsu," she said. "Our parents didn't have any objections when we asked for their permission. There are several other Emirati girls in training but they don't want to fight in public. But we, seven of us, have decided to move forward. We have given the Emirati women a start and I am sure more will follow us."

Of the other Emiratis in the 63kgs and under, Issrine Idris was outclassed with a choke-lock from Niceye Whissell of Canada and Charlotte Baumgarten of Germany had Latifa Hassan out early with a hand-lock.

Maha al Rumaithi went down to Tamino Kaori of Japan and Samira al Rumaithi went the full distance although losing by 17-0 to Eman Isam Bilbaisi of Jordan.

Soud al Mir, who went down to Allison Tremblay of Canada in the 63kg and over weight division, wasn't disappointed either.

"There is no reason for me to get disappointed," she said. "It is the other way around. I am very excited and happy to have participated in a big competition that has drawn a big audience and seen live on TV.

"Like all my friends, I am going to continue with the training and get better. This was a real good experience for all of us. Jiu-jitsu is new for the Emirati girls and I am sure it will get bigger and better with time. What we need here is more competitions."

Latifa Akhassay, al Mir's colleague in the same weight division, was beaten by Eirin Nyguen of Norway.

Caroline de Lazzer, the Emirati women's coach, also made a first round exit to compatriot Michello Nicolini in the black belt 63kg and under.

"It just goes to show how tough the competition has become," said de Lazzer, the 2006 world champion. "Those opponents the Emirati girls competed are those who are pursuing in becoming future world champions. My students are just beginners. It was the experience for them."

For a second successive day the organisers failed to have a fight-card and the results, and not only had the public and the media confused, but some of the competitors too.

Katrina Weilbacher, from the United States, in her first appearance at the Abu Dhabi event was still wondering around long after the day's events were over to find out if she had to fight for a third-place play-off.

"Usually the fight schedules and the results are announced over the PA system so you know when and whom you fight next," she said. "There is a lot of confusion. I still don't know if I have to fight in a play-off for bronze."

Weilbacher went down to South African Penny Thomas in the black belt 63kgs and over in the semi-finals.

"I was in a triangle for about three minutes but lost the fight," she said. "Penny is one of the best in the world. The competition here is much higher than I expected with all the top fighters from around the world."

Thomas will meet the world champion Gabriella Garcia, of Brazil, in today's final. And Weilbacher, who lost in the World Cup final to Garcia in Los Angeles last year said it could be anyone's final.

"It will be a very close and exciting contest," added the American, who has crossed path with both. "It will be like a toss of a coin for me."

The finals of all weight classes and categories will be worked off today from 11am at the National Exhibition Centre.