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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Omar Al Marzooqi's feet on ground despite historic feat for UAE at Youth Olympic Games

Teenager being called 'champ' week after winning first medal at Games, but he knows he has long way to go

Omar Al Marzooqi, left, has won the UAE their first Youth Olympic medal nine years after taking up the sport. Reem Mohammed / The National
Omar Al Marzooqi, left, has won the UAE their first Youth Olympic medal nine years after taking up the sport. Reem Mohammed / The National

Omar Al Marzooqi's life may have changed for the better.

A teenager with plenty of potential as a showjumping rider, he is being called "champ" at his father's riding school these days.

The shift in people's attitude is natural: just last week, he became the first Emirati to win a medal at the Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.

But Al Marzooqi, just 15 years old, has his feet firmly rooted to the ground. It shows even as he prepares earnestly for a domestic competition at the Sharjah Equestrian Club on Thursday – only a week after bringing home a silver medal from the Argentine capital.

The grade 11 student from Emirates National School is aware of the high expectations on him.

“That’s quite natural now that I have achieved something that no other person has achieved before,” Al Marzooqi said during his routine workout at Al Bahiya Stables in Shahama, just outside Abu Dhabi.

“Winning a medal at the Youth Olympic Games obviously is my biggest achievement so far, and to go further up in the sport means more hard work.”

Omar Al Marzooqi preps for a ride at Al Bahiya Stables. Al Marzooqi says his feet remain rooted to the ground despite his early success. Reem Mohammed / The National
Omar Al Marzooqi preps for a ride at Al Bahiya Stables. Al Marzooqi says his feet remain rooted to the ground despite his early success. Reem Mohammed / The National

Al Marzooqi got his breakthrough last year when he was picked for the national junior team. After impressing in various events across Europe – including France, Germany, Slovakia and the United Kingdom – he was selected to compete at the Youth Olympics.

At the Games, Al Marzooqi had to ride a nine-year-old mare borrowed from Argentina – called La Corina Lal – and the lack of familiarity was challenging.

“I rode her twice before the first competition, which was the team event, and the individual four days later,” he said. “She was not the easiest to ride, but she gave me a good performance to win a medal.

"She was very keen and wanted to go into the jumps too quickly," he added. "It’s different when you ride a horse you always ride, but it all worked out well for me at the end."

Al Marzooqi's journey as a rider began when his father opened the riding school in 2009.

“I was six and accompanied my father to the riding school almost every day,” he recalled. “I loved the horses and wanted to start riding. Nobody asked me to do it, but I had a passion to ride horses.

"I rode in the first competition when I was nine, and from there onwards my family encouraged me and have supported me until now.”

Omar Al Marzooqi says he owes his success to his father, Abdul Aziz Al Marzooqi, with whom he poses at Al Bahiya Stables. Reem Mohammed / The National
Omar Al Marzooqi says he owes his success to his father, Abdul Aziz Al Marzooqi, with whom he poses at Al Bahiya Stables. Reem Mohammed / The National

Al Marzooqi’s skills were spotted by Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza's Al Shira’aa Stables, who sponsored his rides, provided him with horses and enrolled in training camps in the UAE and abroad. Naturally, he is grateful for their help.

“I want to present this medal to Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza when I meet her next time,” Al Marzooqi said.

The young Emirati also owes his success to Abdul Aziz Al Marzooqi, his instructor-father.

“When I started my riding school, my dream was to produce an international winner,” the senior Al Marzooqi said. “There are more than 500 riders attending the riding school, and I thought one of them can go on achieve that for the stable.

"But my son has accomplished that for me."

Abdul Aziz believes the UAE have the potential to win a gold medal at the summer Olympics.

“There are several Emirati riders with the potential to strike gold at the Olympics," he said. "If not in Tokyo 2020, perhaps in Paris four years later. I would love to see it happen during my time.”

However, his son may have to wait until 2024 as the rule in the equestrian sport at the Olympics as of today states that participants have to be over 18 to be eligible.