Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 13 July 2020

UAE aiming to 'spread the culture of triathlon' among Emirati youth

The Emirates has quickly made its mark as a world-class host for the sport but now aims to establish a strong national team

Asma Al Janahi is a commitee member of the UAE Triathlon Association. Reem Mohammed / The National
Asma Al Janahi is a commitee member of the UAE Triathlon Association. Reem Mohammed / The National

The UAE Triathlon Association might only have been founded four years ago but the Emirates has quickly made its mark in the sport.

A successful bid to host the ITU Grand Final 2022 in Abu Dhabi shows it has quickly established itself as a world-class venue for top-level competition.

The UAE is also confident that plenty more objectives can be achieved over the next four years.

First, is to elevate themselves from an associate member to a federation after fulfilling their commitments to the sport’s governing body – the International Triathlon Union (ITU).

The second is to establish a strong national team in triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon, all of which come under the umbrella of the ITU.

According to Asma Al Janahi, a board member of the association since its foundation, the first triathlon in the country was held in Sharjah in 1990.

The highlight now is the opening round of the ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi that has taken place in March since 2015.

Although the UAE has seen triathlon activities for three decades and emerged as one of the leading venues for the world’s elite triathletes, the country has yet to make a mark with any of their own in terms of competitions.

The Emirati youth has been slow to embrace the sport but Al Janahi is confident that will change soon.

“We have done a lot of work and continue to do so,” Al Janahi, who also works as a project manager for the Prime Minister’s Office in Dubai, told The National.

“We have plans to launch a national triathlon championship in the 2020/2021 season.

“We want to get two clubs each from all seven Emirates and then pick three of their best athletes, both boys and girls in the age group from 10 to 17, for high performance training.

“We have number of athletes, swimmers and cyclist with potential but they haven’t been able to win at the top flight in any of these disciplines.

“Perhaps they can be successful in triathlon, duathlon or aquathlon with two or three disciplines combined.

“This is the message we want to convey to the club managements because the objectives we all have are the same, which is to see the UAE flag hoisted at international races, Asian Games and the Olympics.”

Al Janahi said the association is on the verge of being elevated as a federation after completing the mandatory three years and fulfilled the requirements of the ITU.

Triathlete Afra Al Majar, right, with Asma Al Janahi by Dubai Canal. Reem Mohammed / The National
Triathlete Afra Al Majar, right, with Asma Al Janahi by Dubai Canal. Reem Mohammed / The National

“The association’s objective is to spread the culture of triathlon among the youth in the country,” she added.

“Obviously, we want to discover and develop national talents to build a high-level sporting generation to represent the country at the international competitions.

“Triathlon as well as duathlon and aquathlon are still new sports for the Emiratis and it takes time for them to embrace and pursue it full time.”

There are a few who have taken to the sport full-time on their own. Faris Al Zaabi is one of them.

Al Zaabi, 26, left behind five-and-a-half-years of studying for a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Victoria in Canada to relocate to Spain in August 2018 to pursue a career as a triathlete.

The Emirati won his first international medal since turning professional by taking bronze in the 2019 Luxor ATU Sprint Duathlon African Championships & Pan Arab Championships.

“Faris went on his own and we have extended our support to him in whatever competitions or whenever he needs our backing,” Al Janahi said.

“We also consult him to share his knowledge and experience of being a full-time triathlete. Faris was a late starter in the sport, but had he got in earlier, he certainly would have achieved more, with his commitment to the sport.”

Afra Al Majar and Asma Al Janahi run along the Dubai Canal. Reem Mohammed / The National
Afra Al Majar and Asma Al Janahi run along the Dubai Canal. Reem Mohammed / The National

The association has six Emiratis in their elite squad, excluding Al Zaabi. They are Mohsn Al Ali, Mohammed Al Ghafri, Hamdan Ahmed, Abdullah Farhan, Saif Al Samahi and para-athlete Abdullah A Ghafri.

Aside from Al Zaabi’s medal, Aisha Al Muhairi bagged a triathlon bronze in the West Asian Championship in Bahrain December 2019, and Abdullah Al Ghafri took fourth spot at Asian Championship in the Philippines in 2018.

“We will follow the government’s directives to start our outdoor activities but it’s already summer, and it gives us time to plan for the next season starting from October, if all goes well,” Al Janahi said.

The association is planning to launch a membership drive from July following the success they had in holding virtual training and competitions during the coronavirus crisis.

“We have been super-active during the Covid-19 lockdown,” Al Janahi, who is also a committee member of women’s committee at the Asian Triathlon Confederation, said.

“We conducted 60 virtual training sessions and held nine competitions. We concentrated on duathlon with participants who had a treadmill and cycling App.

“The races were live on Zoom and Instagram, and we had fans to cheer them. We had race officials and board members of the association, and it was as good as the real competitions.

“We had a very positive response and because of the demand we want to continue with our virtual races even after the Covid-19 is eradicated.”

Al Janahi believes through the memberships drive to get them all involved in the sport as athletes, trainers and fans.

“Of the nine races, three were for the people of determination, and it drew participants from more than 10 countries,” she said.

Updated: June 3, 2020 11:34 AM



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