x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Young triathletes dream of Olympics

Students at the Raha International School are leading the way towards creating a new generation of Emirati triathletes - and their sights are already set on Olympic qualification.

Students at the Raha International School are leading the way towards creating a new generation of Emirati triathletes - and their sights are already set on Olympic qualification. Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon, led by former Ironman World Champion Faris al Sultan aims to inspire youngsters into the sport - and a group of local students in Abu Dhabi are already vying to be first on the starting line.

Mark Pringle, a former international triathlete, has been putting students at the school through their paces as a swimming coach for the past year. Now, with an enthusiastic response from local youngsters, a new triathlon club will be launched in September. Youngsters are lining up to take up the challenge - testing their ability in swimming, cycling and running. "The launch of the Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon squad is a huge step towards making triathlon more recognised and hopefully making it part of the schools curriculum," says Pringle.

"Triathlon wasn't really on the agenda: they focus on swimming. If I can push it from my end and the youngsters can push themselves people will take notice. "All these guys can run, so the next thing is the bike and then the swimming. I think everyone can relate to each of those, no matter who you are, you can relate to riding a bike, running and swimming in some sort of fashion. "My focus will be in multi sport events, and especially getting the Emirati kids up to speed and onto the world stage in triathlon. We already have kids who are willing to give it a go and have shown ability, which is great."

Pringle hopes the new triathlon club will test the country's pool of talent to find youngsters who have the ability needed for the sport. He is aiming high, hoping to uncover homegrown talent who could one day compete against world class athletes, and qualify for the Olympics. "It's an Olympic sport and it's on a world stage," he says. "There isn't a lot of opportunity for the kids in this area to get into a sport that is involved at that level. Hopefully with the new emphasis on promoting triathlon in the UAE, and with enthusiastic kids coming along, anything is possible.

"The Olympics is just round the corner for these kids. If we can get a good base of kids it is a great platform for the UAE to launch onto the world stage, not only in the juniors but the seniors too." Hamden Khouri, 14 and from Abu Dhabi, is one to watch. Although Khouri says he needs to brush up no his swimming and cycling, he already possesses the key ingredients for the sport - enthusiasm and the willingness to take up the challenge.

"It's a great sport. I enjoy swimming, biking and running, and this sport puts them all together so it's perfect for me," he says. "Anyone can do it as long as they are willing to. The swimming, biking and running is something most people are capable of, so why not give it a shot when you are young and willing to do it. I've been running for a while, so I've got that part down, just the swimming and a bit of biking next.

"Mark is a great coach. Since I have a chance to do it and I'm really willing to I think why not? I've seen the athletes who are part of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team and they seem to really enjoy it, plus it is a lifestyle thing, it is important to me to be fit and healthy. "I would really like to be a professional triathlete and I'm excited that I have this great opportunity to try and achieve that. I play football, but triathlon is different.

"Everyone plays football, being a triathlete is more interesting. You need a lot more willpower to do it." sports@thenational.ae