x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emiratis chase qualification for the Olympics

Pace makers to help UAE runners Alia Mohammed Saeed and Bethlem Desalyn target 5,000m B standard time. Audio interviews

Alia Saeed, right, and Betlhem Belayneh are both hoping to qualify for the London Olympics.
Alia Saeed, right, and Betlhem Belayneh are both hoping to qualify for the London Olympics.

DUBAI // The UAE Athletics Federation aim to give their two leading female distance runners the best chance of qualifying for the London Olympics via a hastily arranged track event at the Police Stadium tomorrow.

The governing body are employing two pace makers in the 5,000 metres race to set a rate which they hope will bring automatic qualification within the reach of Alia Mohammed Saeed and Bethlem Desalyn.

The Emirati runners, both aged 21, are targeting the B standard time of 15 minutes, 25 seconds, which would secure one of them passage to the Games in July. The A standard is 10 seconds faster.

Saeed, the gold medallist at the Arab Games in December, missed the B time by one second in a race in Spain last year, while Desalyn was a further five seconds back in the same race.

"They are really knocking on the door [of qualification], it is just a matter of having the right race situation and for things to go well," said Larry Barthlow, their former coach and the director of tomorrow's event.

"We have the pace set up for them and I am very optimistic that we are going to see good things on Friday."

The competition comprises four races - the others being 800m and 1,500m events for men and a 1,500m contest for women - and has attracted 40 athletes from 12 countries. Saeed and Desalyn will be running against a pedigree field in the 5,000m race, with Veronica Wanjiru, the former teenage prodigy from Kenya who is back after maternity leave, and Tiblet Diriba, the Ethiopian runner, also competing.

"We are looking to qualify and then give our athletes the best chance to prepare for the Olympic Games," said Saad Awad Al Muhairi, the secretary general of the Athletics Federation.

Tomorrow's event is not the last chance the two Emiratis will have to earn their place at the Games, as the process closes on July 8.

However, Barthlow, a former marathon runner who oversaw the development of Saeed and Desalyn for two years as their coach, acknowledges opportunities for distance runners to attain the qualifying standard are limited by market forces.

"They [all the athletes competing in Dubai ] all need a qualifier," said Barthlow who believes the hard track at the Police Stadium will prompt fast times. "Everything is gravitating towards what television wants in our sport. They are putting 3,000m races in a lot of the Diamond League events. Because there are a lack of competitions, how are you going to qualify?

"There is no place to go. Managers are getting on the phone to each other saying, 'Can we put something together? We will buy all the tickets, there will be no prize money, and we will do it.'

"The distance events in our sport are in a little bit of trouble because television doesn't want to have 30 minutes of one event."

pradley@thenational.ae

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