x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Olympics: Ground work laid by UAE's Sheikh Saeed to succeed

Modifications to private range by Emirati is typical of his quest for improvement.

Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum made the background of his Jebel Ali range in monochrome colour to test himself more.
Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum made the background of his Jebel Ali range in monochrome colour to test himself more.

It might seem a little overboard to say Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum has been moving heaven and earth in his bid to make the podium at London 2012, but the assessment is at least half accurate.

Anyone who has been down to the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence recently might have noticed a colossal, horseshoe-shaped mound of soil behind the skeet shooting range which is adjacent to the football field.

Just lately, the diggers have been busy making the vast walls of earth even higher. There is a reason for it.

The area is Sheikh Saeed's private skeet range at the only Dubai shooting club that is open to the public.

By building up the walls behind his range, he has been aiming to alter the depth perception when he is targeting the rapidly moving clays. A monochrome background makes his skeet training even more testing.

Sheikh Saeed, who carried the UAE's flag at Friday's opening ceremony and the nation's medal hopes in the skeet today, is well known for being obsessive in his pursuit of excellence.

You might think somebody who is heading to his fourth Olympics as a shooter might have at least settled on a gun which suits him by now. Yet he can often be found at the range in Jebel Ali fine-tuning the weapon, with up to 30 separate versions of the same part lined up ready for testing.

"He is a guy who is never satisfied with himself," said Slavek Kurczewski, the Polish-born manager of the Jebel Ali Shooting Club, who has competed at world championship level for South Africa.

"He always thinks he can do better, and I think for him tuning the gun is a mental way of trying to get better."

Desire for self-improvement has also taken Sheikh Saeed abroad regularly, too.

He has attended shooting competitions in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and has spent most of the summer at an intensive training camp in the countryside near Milan in Italy.

"He works hard because he wants to improve and be at the top," said Leonas Molotokas, the Lithuanian who is Sheikh Saeed's coach. "Sometimes we do more, because just a bit more than a little is not enough.

"We have done more training over the past two or three years in different shooting ranges in Europe, which is why we were in Italy for such a long time.

"Another reason is that Italy is a big producer of ammunition, which we really don't have in Dubai. [In Italy] we have been working in the best conditions, with the best ammunition, everything that is needed for training."

The UAE's representative in skeet has plenty of goodwill towards him from within the Olympic tour party, because of his years of service to the sport.

"Sheikh Saeed has 15 years of experience and everybody would love him to win," said Ahmed Al Kamali, who is the president of the UAE Athletics Federation and a member of the country's London 2012 tour party. "He is one of the senior competitors and he definitely has a chance."

Medal hopes are invested in Sheikh Saeed for a reason. He has form, having won the ISSF World Cup Shotgun Final in Al Ain last October.

However, Molotokas, who has been coaching skeet in Dubai for the past 12 years, warned that his employer is just one of a group of high-class shooters who could take a medal.

"Nobody knows what Sheikh Saeed can do at the Olympic Games," Molotokas said. "We are thinking he is ready. We have had no disturbances in our preparation, other than a shoulder problem which meant he could not practice for two or three weeks.

"There are a group of shooters who can do something, and Sheikh Saeed has shown that he is one of them. He shot well in the World Cup finals, he was the winner by three points, which is a very big gap.

"It is one competition, and a big percentage of success can be down to luck."

pradley@thenational.ae

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