Rio 2016: UAE’s team will be the country’s largest Olympic contingent
DUBAI // The UAE is set to send its largest contingent of individual athletes to the Olympic Games over the next week.
Thirteen athletes will represent the country in six different disciplines. For one of the four females in the delegation – swimmer Nada Al Bedwawi – the occasion will be even more historic.
The youngest athlete in the group will be the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony on August 6.
Al Bedwawi, 18, made history last year when she became the first UAE woman to represent the country at the World Swimming Championships.
“She’s a young lady and she’s good and we’ve given her big support to have the UAE flag,” said Dawood Al Hajri, assistant secretary general of the National Olympic Committee. “She will be in the front; this is the first time.”
In fact, Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, was the first female to lead the country into an Olympic Games, carrying the flag at the opening ceremony at the Beijing Games in 2008 as a taekwondo competitor.
The best hopes of a medal are likely to rest upon the three-man shooting squad, which includes the veteran Olympian Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum.
Sheikh Saeed, a multiple winner at Asian and World level, will be appearing at his fifth consecutive Olympics while Saif bin Futtais is the country’s biggest hope for a medal.
“Our three shooters embarked on a long-term programme after the London Games to have them as prepared and ready as possible,” the UAE Shooting Association said. “This is the first time we have had three qualifiers in our team. They have participated in numerous world championships, grand prix events and training camps so they are well prepared.”
As well as swimming and shooting, the UAE will have participants in cycling, judo, weightlifting and athletics.
Yousif Mirza, the country’s leading cyclist, will be taking part in the 250-kilometre road event as the first cyclist from the UAE at the Olympics since 1996 and the first ever to compete in the road race.
Mirza qualified after finishing second in the Asian Cycling Championship in Thailand last year.
“We’ve been preparing Yousif for the past year to compete at Rio,” said Osama Al Shafar, the president of the UAE Cycling Federation. “Rio is going to be one of the longest races ever, with the best of the best riders from all over the world.
“Most of the Tour de France riders will finish now and go over to Rio. These cyclists have just done 4,000km so they have mileage on their legs. Yousif has been preparing. It’s going to be tough for him but we wish him all the best.”
The Zika virus has forced the withdrawal of several leading names from the Games, especially in events such as golf and tennis. There is no vaccination for Zika but Al Hajri said the UAE squad had taken all the precautions that they could for it.
“All of the players have been vaccinated for different things,” he said.
“We go according to what the UAE’s Ministry of Health and other international health agencies have advised.”
Ahmed Al Kamali, the head of the UAE’s Athletics Federation, said he was happy with the number of athletes Rio-bound, and was aiming to double that number for the Tokyo Games in 2020. We are lucky to have that number in our delegation,” he said.
“We still have to work very hard for 2020, to get more athletes. I’m sure, for me, athletics will be double – six – instead of three but the number for this year is fantastic.”
This article was updated on Monday, July 25. Originally we said that Nada Al Bedwawi would be the first female athlete to be the UAE flag-bearer at an Olympic Games when in fact is was Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid, who competed in taekwondo at the 2008 Beijing Games and was also the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. We apologise for the mistake.
Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum
Saif bin Futtais
Khaled Al Kaabi
Alia Saeed (10,000m)
Bethlhem Desaleyn (1500m)*
Saood Al Zaabi (1500m)
Aysha Al Balooshi
Nada Al Bedwawi
Yaqoub Al Saadi
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Updated: July 24, 2016 04:00 AM