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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Sheikh Ahmed's Olympic dream ends with heart problem

The UAE's only Olympic gold medallist steps down from London race following diagnosis with heart ailment.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum at the Nad Al Sheba Shooting Club in Dubai.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum at the Nad Al Sheba Shooting Club in Dubai.
DUBAI // Despite doctor's orders to take it easy, Sheikh Ahmed bin Hashar Al Maktoum still goes to the shooting range every day.

The member of Dubai's ruling family is the UAE's only Olympic gold medallist, but he has been forced to forgo his plans to compete in this year's London Olympics.

"I was ready. My scores and my standards were higher than the day I won at the Athens Olympics [in 2004]," he said. "I was shooting high scores and getting world records in my training every day."

The 2004 double-trap shooting champion developed a cold and a sore throat while competing in Belgrade, Serbia, in October. When his fitness level began to dip, a trip to the doctor revealed he had developed heart problems.

"I found that my performance was going down. The doctor said I had a heart enlargement but he doesn't know why," said Sheikh Ahmed, who is 48. "It's possible that the virus of my cold loved my heart and went straight into it. We also checked the blood and found a very high percentage of lead."

Dr Ali Sabah Abdul Hussein, a general practitioner at Medcare Hospital in Jumeirah, said: "There is a particular bacteria that causes tonsillitis and, if it is not treated, it can cause rheumatic heart disease, which will affect the valve of the heart.

"[An enlarged heart] is known as cardiomegaly, in which one of the muscles in the heart develops a defect. The result is shortness of breath and continuing exercise would be difficult."

Dr Hussein said the treatment for cardiomegaly, an antiarrhythmic drug called amiodarone, can cause lead poisoning.

Although doctors have advised Sheikh Ahmed not to walk more than two kilometres a day, he is still fairly active and is not concerned about the possible risks.

"I am walking about 10 kilometres and I can't stop shooting, so I am still shooting a little bit. I am not afraid of it and I am not worried about it," he said.

Sheikh Ahmed said he cannot bring himself to take a break from shooting because the sport has been so deeply ingrained in him. "I was born into a family where all they knew was shooting," he said. "My father and grandfather were both shooters. I loved shooting when I was a kid and would leave my bike to get rusty but clean my gun every day."

When he got a new gun, he would sleep next to it - like most children would with a teddy bear.

He said being told of his heart condition was shocking and deeply disappointing.

"The thing that hurt the most is that I stopped just a few months shy of the Olympics. If it was my decision to stop, it would not be a big deal, but I am forced," he said.

For the next six months, the sheikh requires monthly check-ups.

Once the condition is brought under control, he hopes to continue in the sport as a coach.

"My dream is to run an academy and put all my experience in it and see the UAE generation doing something for their country," he said.

Sheikh Ahmed believes young Emiratis must start working hard.

"They should stop the malls, computers, best shoes and best cars show," he said. "They need to get up early and by the time they get home, they should be tired and all they need is dinner and sleep. But they can still party once in a while.

"They're spoilt. But I still believe in their talent - even more than I believe in myself."

aalhaddad@thenational.ae