x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE schools athletics event meets the highest standard

Mohammed Mustafa shines brightest at 'brilliant' gathering for young athletes in Dubai.

Mohammed Mustafa wins the 1,500m.
Mohammed Mustafa wins the 1,500m.

As Mohammed Mustafa stood on the top of the podium, he looked nervously around, avoiding eye contact with the television crews and photographers. He was searching for familiar faces and, on spotting his friends among the media scrum in front, a big smile appeared on his face.

Comfortable now, he started posing with his gold medal as the friends clicked away with their mobile phones and cameras.

The 16-year-old pupil at Al Thuraya School had just won the 1,500m in the boys' Under-17 category at the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) Youth Athletics Championships, an event that had brought together more than 1,000 students from 42 different schools - both Emirati and expatriate - for three days of track-and-field competition last weekend.

"This was really easy," said Mustafa, after winning his race by a comfortable margin. The Emirati teenager trains regularly at Al Wasl Club and claims he has won "too many medals" running for his club.

"At the club, it is very difficult. The competition is very tough," said Mustafa, who has been running since the age of six and hopes to represent the country in the future.

Mustafa's record made him one of the most experienced competitors at the championships, which is the first athletics event to bring together students of different nationalities.

Most of the other competitors were track-and-field novices and many, like the Emiratis Abdulla Ibrahim Khamees bin Desmal of Al Ittihad Private School and Mohammed Ahmed Al Mauzmi of Dubai International School, who were running for the first time.

"I usually play football," said Bin Desmal, 16. "Three days ago, my coach told me about this competition and I decided to take part. We trained together and here I am.

"This is my first competition and it was a great experience, very competitive."

For a first-timer, Bin Desmal was impressive in his 1,500m heat, winning by a big margin, but lost to the experience of Mustafa in the final.

Rory Coltman of Jumeirah College finished second in that race and he was disappointed to miss out on what could have been his second gold medal. The 16 year old had earlier won the high jump.

"Unfortunately I missed out on the 1,500m, but there is always a next time," the Year 11 pupil said. "It was wonderful, amazing, really, really good time, honestly.

"Our team was informed only on Tuesday and we've only got four contestants, but I think our overall turnout was brilliant. We came fourth overall. My other team members, they did brilliantly as well. Us four had to split all the stuff together. For people who haven't had time to train, I think that's pretty good.

"We haven't done anything like this before, so this was brilliant. I love the experience. Really nice track, really nice people, really good. We do this [compete] what twice a year? So it was a pretty big honour to do so well."

The athletes were not the only ones enjoying the event, which was organised jointly by the CBD and the Dubai Sports Council.

Pupils from every school turned up at the Dubai Police Stadium to cheer on their representatives, but one particular group - about 100 from Dubai International School - created the loudest noise, screaming and dancing to the music that blared out from the giant speakers.

One of their members seemed in really high spirits, entertaining his schoolmates with his rendition of Michael Jackson, a few hot moves and some flips.

"Fantastic day isn't it, to see all the kids enjoying themselves?" said Richard Vivian, a physical education teacher at Jumeirah College. "It's really good. The kids are loving this. They love competing and testing themselves, and competing in a decent facility.

"The weather has been pretty windy and a little bit of drizzle, but other than that it's been brilliant, an absolutely brilliant day.

"I think the concept is brilliant. It's only the first year, so obviously it's going to grow from strength to strength hopefully next year. The kids have loved it. The facility is fantastic. So hopefully they will go from strength to strength next year." Mohammed Fathim, a PE instructor at Dubai International School, and Andreas Bertram of the German International School had similar views.

"This is the first such competition for schools here," said Fathim, a former Egyptian water polo player.

"If we can have such an event every year, I believe it will be really good for athletics in the country.

"The best thing is this competition is open for all schools, not closed to just locals. Competing against different nationalities will be good for the athletes here."

Bertram said: "We need more events because training for track and field is really hard. You train a lot for an event, but then it's only one event a year.

"So the students would really like a few more events. They want to fight against each other. They start running, but if there are no events, they will have to stop."