The two Emiratis competing in the Athletics World Championships may not be aiming for medals next week, but their goals for the Berlin tournament are a sign of a more realistic approach to sport in the country.
Patience will bring more success
The two Emiratis competing in the Athletics World Championships may not be aiming for medals next week, but their goals for the Berlin tournament are a sign of a more realistic approach to sport in the country. Ali Obaid Shirook and Omar Juma al Salfa are heading to Germany after reaching the qualifying times for the men's 400m hurdles and men's 200m run respectively.
This is the first time competitors from the country have reached a World Championships on merit rather than via wildcards. This follows on from the World Swimming Championships in Rome, where the UAE team set 10 national records. Ahmed al Kamali, president of the UAE Athletics Federation (UAEAF), said the World Championships would be a fun occasion for Shirook and al Salfa, but that regional events later in the year were being targeted for medals.
"We are actually looking ahead to October and November," he said. The pair will compete in the Arab Athletics Championship in Syria in October, followed by the Islamic Games in Iran and the Asian Indoor Games in Hanoi later in the month. The UAEAF are also aiming for medals in the Asian Championships in China this November. Previously sporting leaders in the UAE have been well-documented in their unwavering optimism when it comes to the results expected from Emirati sportsmen and women.
Comments from al Kamali and the UAE swimming team head coach, Paul Van Lieshout, suggest times are changing, with the focus turning to long-term, sustainable goals rather than immediate results. With 10 national records under their belt, the UAE swimmers returned from Rome yesterday. Van Lieshout, who took over as coach before the tournament, said the attitude of demanding immediate success is changing.
"Unfortunately there is no consistency and that is a very common thing in the Arab countries," he said. "They are always looking for the magician who can come in and turn things around immediately. "It doesn't happen, it never does. There are going to be growing pains, but consistency of message is very important." Shirook and al Salfa will compete in their first heats at the World Athletics Championships next Saturday.
With world champions such as Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay to contend with, the UAEAF are looking for second round qualification as a successful result for the two athletes. "We are hoping he will reach the next round at least," Kamali said of his hopes for Shirook, 29, in the men's 400m hurdles. Al Salfa, 19, qualified for the Championship by setting a national record at the Qatif GCC Championships, winning the 200m in 20.72 secs.
"He is the fastest man in the GCC and Arab world," said Kamali. "At the moment he is the best athlete in the country. We are sure he will reach the second round, but we are hoping for a bit more from him." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Swimming review, s8-9 Duo face best in world, s14