Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

UAE swim team scores third gold

Omer Al Shami, 16, took the top spot in the 25-metre breaststroke

UAE Special Olympic swimmer Omer Al Shami. Antonie Robertson / The National
UAE Special Olympic swimmer Omer Al Shami. Antonie Robertson / The National

The UAE’s Special Olympics swimmers received a standing ovation on Monday as the squad picked up their third gold at the games.

Omer Al Shami took the top spot in the 25-metre breaststroke with a winning time of 28.20 seconds at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.

So far the Emirates’ swim team has won a total of eight medals, including three golds, three silver and two bronze.

The entire UAE squad across all events has a tally of 28 golds, 15 silver and 24 bronze, taking the fifth rank in the overall medal table.

Al Shami, 16, who has Down's syndrome, pumped his fists in the air as he took first place, with Botswana’s Glad Ketlaleka coming in a very close second.

“I’m very proud of our swimmers. Omer is so happy with his performance,” said Jamal Nasser, the UAE’s swimming coach.

“This will add to our bank of golds and it’s all because of their hard work.”

Al Shami has won several medals in regional and overseas competitions, but Monday’s win was his first gold at the World Games.

His mother Rula Al Shami said she was overjoyed by the result, and saw the success as the start of a phenomenal journey at the Special Olympics.

“I can’t express my feelings,” she said. “I’m so happy because he’s always spoken about wanting to be a world champion and I feel that today he’s started the first step to achieve his dream.”

Along with other parents in the crowd at the Hamdan Sports Complex, Ms Al Shami is a regular and vocal supporter of the UAE team.

“I feel they [other athletes] are all like Omer and I want to encourage them when they swim,” she said. “We’re here every day to encourage the whole team.”

Abdullah Al Tajer, nicknamed the UAE’s ‘golden swimmer’ after winning his first gold for the country in Tunisia in 2004 at age 12, also picked up another win in the 50-metre breaststroke on Sunday.

Al Tajer, 27, missed out on a breaststroke gold at the last World Games in Los Angeles in 2015, after failing to finish with a two-handed touch.

Rules laid out by FINA, the international body that governs water sports, state athletes must touch the wall with both hands at the end of each lap and at the race finish.

“Abdullah made sure he stopped the mistake this time,” said Mr Nasser. “We kept practicing the two-hand touch so he would never forget it. He is so proud of this gold.”

The third top spot from the UAE’s swim team this week was won by Khalid Al Barghuthi in the 50-metre freestyle on Saturday.

Al Barghuthi, 19, beat off the competition with an incredible time of 42.83 seconds.

Updated: March 18, 2019 02:15 PM

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