The pool was the focus for a day of triumph and tears at NYUAD where Abdullah Al Tajer celebrated four medals
More gold for UAE's champion Special Olympics swimmer
It was time for celebration and medals for seasoned athletes and first-time winners with some disappointment and tears on the second day of the Special Olympics IX Mena Games in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
While some athletes waved, blew kisses and broke into a victory dance before a cheering crowd gathered around the victory podium at New York University Abu Dhabi's main campus, others were consoled by their coaches with hugs and encouraging words.
The loudest cheers went out for the home team, particularly when the UAE swept the 50 metre freestyle event.
“We won gold, silver and bronze and hope this will continue in other races next year and beyond,” said coach Jamal Nasser.
The UAE’s golden swimmer Abdullah Al Tajer did not disappoint with two golds in the 50-metre freestyle and 25-metre breaststroke, plus a gold relay medal. First timer in the games Khaled Al Barguthi won a gold in the 50-metre freestyle and silver in the breaststroke.
Teenager Omer Al Shami struck a pose to replicate Usain Bolt’s trademark lightening move after he bagged a silver in the 50-metre butterfly and gold in the 4 x 25-metre relay.
Emirati sprinter Hamda Al Hosani won gold in the 100-meter race with Bahrain’s Aysha Alsubei finishing a close second. Aysha had won the 200m race on Sunday with Hamda taking silver.
For Sudan, it was a return to the Games after a break of 10 years with athletes picking up nine medals including two silver and three bronze in athletics and bocce.
“The athletes were very excited to come here. It is a new experience for them because most don’t go out of the country so it’s a new culture and new place. We hope the next time we will get more athletes who will participate in many more sports,” said Dr Khalid Mohammed, the team doctor.
“When we go back from the time we land, we want to start getting people interested in coming back for the World Special Olympics next year.”
Sprinter Osama Eldin sported a wide grin when he said, “I love to run. It is fantastic. I am the one.”
During breaks between events from athletics, swimming and powerlifting across the college campus, Sundanese sportsmen such as relay anchor Mohammed Akbar shimmied across the dance floor with the moonwalk and a breakdance while other athletes tried to copy his complicated moves.
Wins by Syrian athletes in powerlifting would help families set aside the conflict for awhile, said coach Zarieh Balian.
Syrian athlete Salman Sulaiman won four golds, Najma Al Amouri bagged two silver and two bronze in the deadlift, powerlifting squat and bench-press categories.
“The families don’t want it to impact their children. They don’t want them to only think of war, they also want them to think of different circumstances. There are many who are practicing for the World Special Olympics,” he said.
Taking athletes with intellectual disabilities to participate in events around the world was key to spreading the word about them, said Algerian coach Mehdi Abdul Hafeed.
“There is a connection with people and for the athletes it is an amazing feeling when they realise they can win. Family support is very important for the Special Olympics, and as coach and staff we try to help them to grow and fly,” he said.
The family of first-time competitor Kuwaiti competitor Deema Mohammed were among the cheering crowd on the athletic field. The Games have been a learning curve for not just the athletes but also for parents.
“Her personality has changed after she started running. This is her first time in a competition. She tries her best in other things also. This is important for her to gain her own friends,” said her mother Ayesha Al Houli who was accompanied by Deema’s sisters.
“I was afraid when she started running that she would injure herself but my family supported us and said we should let her be and not keep her at home. When we went to see her in her accommodation at the games, she was not very happy because she thought I was coming to take her home and she said she wanted to stay. In just a few days she seems to have grown up.”
The Austrian team who were invited to the games won a silver and bronze. But coach Waltrud Hafner spent some time consoling swimmer Milita who secured the second spot in the 50-metre freestyle but was disqualified in the breaststroke.
“The swimmers have enjoyed their time in Abu Dhabi but it is difficult for anyone when they don’t win. Milita cried a lot because she was sure she had touched with both hands. We had to tell her it was okay and that there would be another time,” Ms Hafner said.