x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Saudi jumper makes great strides to reach the top

Amith Passela speaks to Kamal Bahamdan, who has represented Saudi Arabia at every Olympics since 1996.

KAMAL BAHAMDAN riding RIVAAL breed KWPN (Courtesy Kit Houghton)
KAMAL BAHAMDAN riding RIVAAL breed KWPN (Courtesy Kit Houghton)

Two decades ago, when Kamal Bahamdan set off to Boston University, in the United States, for his engineering degree, he researched the showjumping competitions in the vicinity. When he discovered Boston was a hotbed for the sport, he took his horses with him.

"I knew I was going to be away for a few years and if the horses were with me I could still continue participating in the competitions," Bahamdan said.

As it often is, his logic was flawless. His talents were spotted by the Saudi Arabia Equestrian Federation and he was included in the country's showjumping squad. He has competed in all five Olympics the Saudi showjumping team have participated in from 1996.

He will be among the leading riders in tonight's final round of the Global Champions Tour (GCT) at the Al Forsan International Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi.

At age 42, he is enjoying his best season. He was a member of Saudi Arabia's bronze-medal team and narrowly missed out on an individual medal, finishing fourth, at the London Games. He calls it the high point of his career. Prince Abdullah Al Saud, Ramzy Al Duhami and Abdullah Al Sharbatly were his teammates in winning the bronze medal.

Bahamdan is placed 12th in the 2012 GCT, his best position since the competition began in 2006.

Bahamdan also is a successful businessman, the chief executive of the Bahamdan Group, a global investment holding company involved in financial services, telecommunications, education and retail across the region.

"It is about setting goals, strategic planning and hard work. It is the same principals one has to follow in business as well as in sport, and then start management after that," Bahamdan said.

"I loved animals and that's how it all began. When I told my father [Abdullah] that I wanted a horse he told me I can't bring a horse home but you have to go to them. He enrolled me at a riding school and I got hooked from the very first day.

"I couldn't think one day without horses. The following year I owned a horse.

"At high school I started to compete at the higher level and when I went to the university was when I really got serious to make it to the highest level."

Bahamdan said he was accountable for his first horse, Hatem, when he was only eight years old and considers that a milestone.

"I used to get worried about the horse's welfare," he said. "Most kids at that age may not worry about the horses they rode. That involvement and commitment shapes up one's personality in a big way."

He had a financial background but he wanted to study engineering to satisfy his passion for science and to improve his problem-solving abilities as a businessman. Asked why Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of showjumping among Gulf states, he said: "We started early and the first participation in the Olympics was in 1996 and two years before we were in the Asian Games.

"We started with a very good group of young, talented riders. The second generation of the riders picked up from where we left with the same motivation and have excelled at the international level. Once again, it is the hard work.

"That's not to take anything away from other teams like the UAE and Qatar, where they are emerging as another leading nation. I have no doubt they will soon reach the desired levels. Whatever the sport you do you need to have dedication and time to achieve their goals.

"For me, every minute of the day counts to oversee the business and to find time for the sport."

He took a break from business ahead of the London Games, entering competitions almost every week for 18 months.

He has cut back to one competition per month, but he has not forgotten his horses, which are based in Europe. "They are like members of the family," he said.

Bahamdan has been trained by and worked with some of the greatest in the sport.

Among the most influential, he said, are Paul Schockemohle, Jan Tops, and Stanny van Paesschen. He said it is vital to keep setting goals and work towards them.

"This is what keeps me motivated and maximises the value of every day. Hobbies are what you like to do and feel good about. I am lucky to have a successful business as well as a sport to actively pursue. I play golf, football and during winter I like to go skiing."

apassela@thenational.ae

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