Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Maitha Al Nyadi: Emirati judo star sets sights high after making history at IJF World Championships

The 18-year-old became the first Emirati female to take part in judo's biggest tournament, which concluded in Tokyo on Sunday

Maitha Al Nyadi is training for a place at future Olympic or Asian Games. Victor Besa / The National
Maitha Al Nyadi is training for a place at future Olympic or Asian Games. Victor Besa / The National

As Emirati females continue to break new ground in sports, Maitha Al Nyadi is the latest athlete to place her name among the nation’s trailblazers.

Al Nyadi, 18, became the first Emirati female to compete at the International Judo Federation World Championships, which concluded in Tokyo on Sunday.

She made a first-round exit in the 57-kilogram weight division but still earned her place in UAE judo folklore as a pioneer in the martial art.

Competing on judo’s biggest global stage should not come as a big surprise, considering Al Nyadi was the first Emirati female to win an international medal when she took bronze at the 2017 Cadets Asian Cup in Hong Kong. She is now part of a high-performance programme at Tokai University in Japan.

An athlete of many talents, Al Nyadi is also an accomplished archer, and in 2017, she represented the UAE at the Archery World Cup in Marrakech, coming eighth.

“I’m the only girl in the UAE practicing judo at this level, so I don’t feel too special about being the first Emirati girl to compete on the world stage,” Al Nyadi told The National.

“If that’s considered as an achievement, I’ll take that as an honour. However, the most important thing for me was representing my country.”

Al Nyadi experimented with many sports growing up and started practicing judo at the age of six. Since taking judo seriously, the Emirati teenager has set herself some big goals.

“I was in sports from a very young age and trained in a few martial arts disciplines, but judo was always my first love,” she said.

“I’m full time in judo with the opportunity provided by our judo federation to train full time. I can represent the UAE in both the Olympics and the Asian Games, hopefully. That would be my objective.”

Nasser Al Tamimi, general secretary of the UAE Wrestling and Judo Federation, has high expectations for the teenager and believes she is an Olympic prospect for either Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024.

“We had Maitha earmarked as a judo potential from a very young age and to get her on to the world stage was always the plan,” he said.

According to Al Tamimi, the federation created plans to develop the judo programme further, and says Al Nyadi can be a role model for girls who want to pursue full-time judo careers.

“Most Emirati girls change their lifestyles when they leave school,” Al Tamimi said. “They either go to the local universities or study abroad, meaning they give up sports.

“We tried to find a way to keep those with potential by way of scholarships to excel in both judo and their academics.

“At Tokai University, Maitha can complete her higher education and work on the high-performance training in judo.

“Our federation signed an MOU with the All-Japan Judo Federation and Tokai University to support our athletes who wanted to continue their academic programme as well as judo. Maitha is the first to receive it.”

Updated: September 2, 2019 06:20 PM

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