x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Strongmen poised for championship

Abu Dhabi policemen wins both his category and overall title as regional contenders are selected for next year's competition.

Ahmed Hussain competes in the over-100kg class yesterday.
Ahmed Hussain competes in the over-100kg class yesterday.

AJMAN // Ajman's University of Science and Technology was a spectacle of eye-popping biceps, triceps and abs, as more than 50 bodybuilders took the stage at yesterday's Emirates Bodybuilding Championship. In the tournament, organised by the Emirates Bodybuilding Federation (EBBF), 59 of the Middle East's finest musclemen, including 40 amateur bodybuilders from the UAE, performed seven poses to impress a panel of eight judges and win shares of the Dh44,000 prize money.

Ahmed Hussain Mahmoud won both the over-100kg category and the overall title. A handful of competitors were to be selected for the UAE national team competing in the World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships - the first to be held in this country - in Dubai next October. The audience of 300, many of whom had not seen a live bodybuilding competition before, shouted encouragement. "I have never seen so many naked men before," said Amna Muhammad, 22, who came from Dubai to watch her brother, Humaid, compete in the 75kg category. "I loved it."

Backstage, wearing only bikini briefs, competitors rubbed a combination of oils and tanning lotions onto their bodies. Others lifted weights, did handstands and push-ups, all designed to achieve the best muscle definition for their moment in the spotlight. Focus has been crucial in the 90 days before the tournament, when bodybuilders undergo intense diet training. Mahmoud, who had been hotly tipped to win the over-100kg category, the heaviest in the tournament, said his punishing regimen over the past four days had given him the edge.

Mahmoud, 27, originally from Egypt, has been living in the UAE for the past five years and works as a policeman in Abu Dhabi. He has spent more than Dh25,000 (US$6,806) preparing for this competition, most of it on food, supplements and training equipment. But since Tuesday Mahmoud has not had a sip of water or any other drink, and has been surviving on a diet of sweet potatoes, a handful of rice and a little bit of chocolate.

In an event where an extra pound can be the difference between winning and losing, starvation is all part of the build-up. "I'm able to lose 10kg this way," Mahmoud said. He has been lifting weights since he was 16 and competing internationally for the past seven years. His training schedule includes long workouts in the morning and evening, often alongside six colleagues who are also members of the Abu Dhabi Police bodybuilding club.

"My dream is to win Mr Olympia but first I want gold at the world championships in Dubai next year. I will train for 10 months for that event. It will be my focus for the next year." Yesterday's event, comprising preliminary rounds followed by finals, had separate competitions for juniors and seniors. Bodybuilders were separated into nine different weight divisions, starting at 60kg and going up to over-100kg. The winner in each division was to receive Dh10,000, a trophy and a medal.

It was the first time the UAE competition, which was held in Dubai last year, was open to bodybuilders from other GCC nations, including Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Also for the first time in Emirates bodybuilding history, two female bodybuilders, from Kazakhstan, performed a body-fitness show. Osama al Shafar, the president of the EBBF, said he was particularly keen to use this year's tournament as a platform for discovering new talent. "We will be choosing at least 10 athletes, two from each weight category, to join the UAE national team," Mr al Shafar said.

In recent years, the International Bodybuilding Federation has introduced a series of anti-steroid measures in their efforts to have the sport recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Mr al Shafar estimated there are about 4,000 amateur bodybuilders in the UAE, twice the number there were five years ago. "Bodybuilding has become very popular in the last few years. "Now when you go to the gym you'll find at least 20-30 amateur bodybuilders, most are in their teens to early twenties. They like to go to the malls and show off their bodies."

Hussain Ahmed al Saffar, the secretary general of the EBBF, said: "People in Arabic countries like strong men with muscular physiques. Men in the UAE are increasingly thinking about how they look. The bodybuilders all want to be Arnold Schwarzenegger." Should the competitors be chosen to represent the national team at the world championships, they could well be following in their idol's footsteps.

Schwarzenegger won the event in 1969. Actor Lou Ferrigno, famous for playing the Hulk on television, won in 1973 and 1974. And Sean Connery, the Scottish actor, came third in 1953. More than 200 bodybuilders from about 100 countries are expected to arrive in Dubai for the annual World Bodybuilding Championship from Oct 25 to 31. Last month Ali Tabrizi Nouri, the Iranian bodybuilder, was crowned world champion at the World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships 2008 in Bahrain.

jau@thenational.ae