x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Olympics: Steady aim for UAE shooters

Shooting is predominantly a royal endeavour in the UAE, but it does have a common connection. Paul Radley writes from London.

Dhaher Al Aryani may be old at 39 to be making his Olympic debut, but his coach, Rustam Yambulatov, is hoping he surprises a few people in the trap competition.
Dhaher Al Aryani may be old at 39 to be making his Olympic debut, but his coach, Rustam Yambulatov, is hoping he surprises a few people in the trap competition.

 

Ever since Pierre De Coubertin came out with all that claptrap about the "taking part" being the important bit of the Olympics, the Games have lived in happy synthesis with flowery language.

For the Olympics of London 2012, the story of UAE shooting might as well have been written by Rudyard Kipling. Despite walking with kings, the common touch has been everywhere.

Make no mistake, this is the sport of royalty in the Emirates. There were two members of the Dubai royal family competing this week, Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum in the skeet and Sheikh Juma bin Dalmouk in the double trap.

Overseeing has been Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher, the double trap gold medallist from eight years ago, who has been busy proving that great sportsmen can turn their hand to coaching with equal dexterity.

In arguably the most unlikely alliance in recent Olympic history, Sheikh Ahmed helped Peter Wilson, a farmer's son from England, reach the top of the world in his discipline.

Four years ago, the young, little-known shooter who was working in a pub to make ends meet after having his was funding cut, appealed to Sheikh Ahmed - whom he now refers to as simply "Ahmed" - for help. It clearly worked, as Wilson took gold at the Royal Artillery Barracks on Thursday.

It has worked the other way, too. In the course of preparing for the Games, the royals have occasionally taken their orders off the common man, too.

A year ago, Rustam Yambulatov, a former civil engineer from Tashkent, was recruited to coach at the range in Nad Al Sheba, having spent 13 years transforming Kuwait from also-rans to serious players on the world shooting stage. Some regard him as the best coach there is.

In Nad Al Sheba, the shooters want for nothing. Fresh fruit juice, neatly cut sandwiches, an inexhaustible supply of ammunition and perfect weather.

It has not always been this way for the 62 year old from Uzbekistan.

"As an engineer you have a paper, a pen and your brain, and they give you a fixed salary," Yambulatov said.

Shooting is a sport which attracts all sorts. Sheikh Saeed's skeet competition was won on Tuesday by a sergeant in the US Army, while a professional rally driver from Qatar finished third.

The fact he started off at the humble end of the social spectrum, back in the communist era Soviet Union, did not stop Yambulatov reaching the top. He took a silver medal at the 1980 Games in Moscow, even though his first invitation to join the national team went missing.

"After I started getting results in shooting, the Soviet Union coach immediately invited me for competitions, but some people got jealous because I was only young," he said.

"A letter from the Soviet Union sport authority - not the Uzbekistan one - was put under the door at my work. Moscow called me direct and asked why I had turned down the chance to represent the Soviet Union national team.

"I said I was sorry, but I didn't want to make problems for my boss. He was a very good man, so I told them my job had sent me outside of Tashkent to build a bridge, so he was not in trouble.

"They told me you only get one invitation from the Soviet Union. Then I won more competitions, got another invitation and represented the Soviet Union for 15 years."

This has been the first time the UAE have had three shooters qualified in separate disciplines at an Olympics. The third member of the team, Dhaher Al Aryani, will compete in the trap today.

The Ras Al Khaimah shooter has modest aspirations, understandably given his build up. The day before he left for London, he was back in the northern emirate looking after his wife, who had just had an operation in hospital.

At 39, he is old for an Olympics debutant. His qualification was a gratefully-received surprise, so just being there is achievement enough.

"If God helps him, he could go to the final," Yambulatov said of Al Aryani. "It has happened before. In Barcelona 1992 there was a shooter who nobody knew [Petr Hrdlicka].

"He came to the Olympic Games, won gold medals, shot for a couple of years, then finished. The Olympics are interesting because these things can happen. You don't know who will win.

"[Dhaher] may not have a chance of a gold medal, but he could go up to the final.

"I hope he does."

pradley@thenational.ae

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