x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Khaled hoping to find gold in sails

In the first of a series of profiles on UAE Olympians, the sailor Adel Khaled talks about his hopes of medal glory.

The UAE sailor Adel Khaled makes some last-minute adjustments as he prepares to sail his laser dinghy near the Emirates Sailing School off Al Samaliyahi Island.
The UAE sailor Adel Khaled makes some last-minute adjustments as he prepares to sail his laser dinghy near the Emirates Sailing School off Al Samaliyahi Island.

The Emirates Sailing School man is first Arab to compete in his event. Ahmed Rizvi reports This the first in a series of eight profiles of the UAE Olympians competing in Beijing that The National will publish before the Games open next weekend Adel Khaled is going to the Olympics for the first time. In fact, he is the first Arab sailor to take part in the greatest sporting show on the planet. But there is no sign of nerves, nor any anxiety. Rather, the instructor from the Emirates Sailing School in Abu Dhabi is excited and over the moon.

"I am feeling very good and confident," says Adel, running his hands through his long hair. "I have been training and competing in Europe for seven months since January and I feel ready for the Olympics. "It is the dream of every athlete and sportsperson to compete in the Olympics. So it has been my dream as well. "Now that I am going to Beijing, I feel proud of myself, I feel proud for my country and I hope to put the UAE on top of the world.

"The competition is going to be tough, but I am okay with it. I know what I am capable of." Adel has the soul of the sailor, free from all disquiet and without a care of the world. He bounces around as he talks, answering every query with a hearty laugh, especially when you ask him about his age. "No, no... please don't ask me about my age," he insists. "I never talk about my age." He relents a little when you persist. "Okay, you can say I am in my 20s - I am not going to give you anymore than that."

He looks a lot younger though, almost a bubbly teen. "I know that," he says. "That is why it is best I don't say my age." In terms of sailing, Adel is a battle-hardened veteran though. He started competing in 2001 and won the European Championship in 2003. In 2007, he struck gold at the Pan-Arab Games in Egypt, which virtually booked his ticket to Beijing. "I didn't go to the Asian Games," he says. "If I had gone there, I would have won the gold for sure."

"I am the first Arab to qualify for the Olympic sailing," he adds. "So I am very proud of this achievement. I am really proud of representing my country. "When I heard the news (about his Olympic qualification), I was over the moon. "I went straight to China for a camp. It was a great experience. The winds were light and the conditions were just perfect. "I hope it stays the same way during the Games.

"I offer my special thanks to Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed al Nahyan for turning my Olympic dream into reality. "I also would like to thank all my sponsors, my family and friends and all those who supported me right through, including the Olympic Committee and the Emirates Sailing." Adel's fascination with the sport started much before 2001 though. "I used to accompany my cousins and uncles on their boats," he reveals.

"I love the sea and I love sailing. It is a great sport. I used to participate in the traditional dhow racing before switching." Did he ever face opposition from his family as he spent more and more time in the sea, away from home? "No, my parents have always been very supportive," he laughs. "They have always encouraged me and prayed for my success and today they are very happy." The nation also seems happy for Adel and proud of his achievements.

"This is the first time that the UAE is participating in sailing at the Olympics," says Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the general secretary of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and general secretary of the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare (GAYSW). "I believe it is also the first for someone from the Arab world. So we are really proud of Adel. "If you take the history of sailing in the UAE, it is very recent. We have been taking part in official sailing tournaments overseas for just the past two years only.

"The first time we participated in an official position was the Pan-Arab Games in Egypt last year. We had three medals and two of themwere gold. So, to take part in the Olympics is a very good result for us. "Adel is a young boy, very aggressive and very confident. He has won a gold medal at the Arab Games in Cairo and I hope he will do well in Beijing." Adel, who used to live in Dubai before he moved to the capital after landing the job at the Emirates Sailing School, leaves for Beijing on Wednesday and his men's laser competition starts on August 12 along the Yellow River in Qingdao. He will be competing against over 400 sailors from 61 countries around the world.

"Some of my friends are travelling to China to support me," says Adel. "I am going to try my best and I hope to win a medal. I want to win the gold medal for my beloved President and the country. This is my goal and my dream." @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae