x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE's Desaleyn is fastest woman in India as she picks up a second gold

Federation chief hails her second gold and UAE's three-medal finish at Asian Championships as 'historic moment'.

Bethlem Desaleyn trailed in the early part of her 5,000-metre race yesterday but forged ahead nicely to clock the fastest time for women on Indian turf in Pune. AFP
Bethlem Desaleyn trailed in the early part of her 5,000-metre race yesterday but forged ahead nicely to clock the fastest time for women on Indian turf in Pune. AFP

Bethlem Desaleyn capped off a brilliant Asian Athletics Championships for the UAE's women by storming to the 5,000-metre title in India on Sunday to claim her second gold medal.

Trailing the lead pack for the best part of the race, Desaleyn switched gears in the final two laps and took the tape in 15 minutes, 12.84 seconds – the fastest 5,000m time by any woman on Indian soil.

The Emirati's late burst left Bahrain's Shitaye Eshete, who had taken the 10,000m gold on the opening day of the competition in Pune, unable to respond as she eventually finished second.

Desaleyn, 21, had won the 1,500m earlier in the championships ahead of Bahrain's Mimi Belete and Ayoko Jinnouchi of Japan.

"I am proud to be here in Pune in today and watch our flag being raised in front of 4,000 spectators," said Ahmed Al Kamali, the president of the UAE Athletics Federation. "It is a historic moment for us, not just the UAE Athletic Federation but the UAE sports family in general."

Alia Saeed, Desaleyn's training partner, started the medal haul with a silver in the 10,000m on the opening day.

"We are very happy to finish this Asian Athletics Championship with three medals," added Al Kamali.

"This is a historic moment actually. Finishing eighth [in the medals table] in Asia, among 39 countries, is not an easy task, but we had been preparing for the last three months."

Al Kamali also felt vindicated, having faced plenty of criticism as the Ethiopia-born Desaleyn and Saeed struggled to make an impact on the international stage at the start of their careers. However, Saeed and Desaleyn produced a one-two in the 5,000m at 2011 Arab Games in Qatar and Desaleyn also won bronze in the 1,500m.

At the 2012 London Olympics though, Desaleyn failed to reach the 1,500m semi-finals.

The UAE athletics chief, however, never lost faith in his two naturalised athletes, brought in by Somalian coach Abdi Bile, the men's 1,500m world champion in 1987, and provided the duo with a doctor and physiotherapist as they trained with the best in Europe.

"I remember, when we started with these two girls, there was a lot of criticism," Al Kamali said. "People were saying they are useless. I just asked them to wait because in athletics, you need six to eight years to get ready for the Olympics. You cannot rush.

"You have to move gradually. So recently we changed the coach and we are preparing her [Desaleyn] now at a very high level because we have only three years left for the Olympics, one for the Asian Games."

The Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, will be held in September next year and Al Kamali is confident Desaleyn can repeat her success there.

"Now our focus will be the Asian Games," he said. "She has won two gold medals here, so why not at the Asian Games in both events?"

Before that, however, Desaleyn has earned herself a date with the world's best. Her success in Pune has earned her a ticket to next month's World Championships in Moscow, and she will be preparing for it in Sweden.

"She has qualified in two events, but we are going to choose which event she is going to concentrate on," Al Kamali said.

"Maybe both, or maybe focus on one event."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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