UAE Olympic flagbearer Sheikh Saeed hopes honour will be lucky charm
DUBAI // The UAE's Olympic contingent hope the duty of being the nation's flag-bearer will work as well for Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum as it did for his fellow shooter Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher eight years ago.
The gold that Sheikh Ahmed claimed by winning the double trap event in Athens in 2004 remains the lone Olympic medal to have been won by the UAE to date.
He did so a few days after carrying the nation's flag at the opening ceremony, an honour that will be taken up by Sheikh Saeed in London next week. He will look to bring the experience of three previous Olympics to bear when he performs in the skeet, three days after leading the UAE's competitors at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium.
Along with his national shooting team colleague Sheikh Juma bin Dalmook, who competes in the double trap discipline, he is regarded as the best chance for a medal at the Games.
"Sheikh Saeed and Sheikh Juma are very hard workers," said Rustam Yambulatov, the trap coach of the national shooting team, who took a silver medal for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Games in Moscow.
"People [in the UAE team] love shooting. They concentrate fully on this: not business, only shooting and prayers."
Sheikh Saeed is greatly respected within the UAE tour party to the Games, both for his performances on the international stage as well as his work ethic.
He is renowned for his relentless pursuit of excellence. He will travel to London directly from Italy, where he has been undertaking a long-term training camp under the supervision of his coach, Leonas Molotokas.
When he is in the UAE, he trains at Jebel Ali Shooting Club, where he has asked for the walls on his private range to be extended upwards to alter depth perception and make visualising the clay targets more testing.
"We feel that with some luck in the shooting we can do well," said Ahmad Al Kamali, who is the president of the UAE Athletics Federation and a member of the country's London 2012 tour party.
"Sheikh Saeed has 15 years experience and everybody would love him to win. He is one of the senior competitors and he definitely has a chance."
It is a marker of shooting's standing at the pinnacle of sporting achievement in this country that competitors from its various disciplines have been flag-bearers at three of the past four Olympics.
Nabil Abdul Tahlak, who competed in the men's 10 metre air rifle led the UAE contingent at the opening ceremony in Atlanta 16 years ago.
Sheikh Ahmed then did the same ahead of each of the following two Games, first in Sydney in 2000, then in Greece where he won gold four years later.
Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid completed the duty before competing in taekwondo in Beijing last time around.