Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

Surprise visits brighten up Day 4 of Special Olympics World Games

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe surprised his country’s team at Yas Links Golf Club and Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, from Iceland, took photos with athletes at Adnec

UAE sprinter Reem Alblooshi, centre, in the 100m at the Special Olympic Games, Dubai Police Stadium Pawan Singh / The National
UAE sprinter Reem Alblooshi, centre, in the 100m at the Special Olympic Games, Dubai Police Stadium Pawan Singh / The National

Halfway through the Special Olympics World Games and athletes are showing no sign of slowing down.

At the end of the fourth day, the UAE is ranked second with 36 gold medals, 21 silver and 29 bronze. Russia is currently places first with 38 gold, 21 silver and 13 bronze while the country with the highest medal tally is India with 104.

Across the country, athletes fought for medals in kayaking and sailing, badminton, golf, athletics, football, powerlifting and judo among many others.

Other than the fierce competition, there was much to be excited at on Monday as a series of high-profile visits caused a frenzy among athletes.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe broke away from his official visit to the UAE to surprise his country’s team at Yas Links Golf Club.

The son of Viola Musariri, the National Director of Special Olympics for Zimbabwe, plays on the country’s golf team.

“It was like golf was made for Munya – golf fitted with his character – he can be alone, take his clubs, go to the driving range and just hit balls,” she said of her son, Munyaradzi “Munya” Musariri.

Only three athletes from Zimbabwe’s team had previously travelled overseas before the Games.

“We’ve never even been near a five-star hotel or dreamt of staying in one. Now we are here, competing and staying in five star hotels. The team can’t believe it. They are so happy.”

Philippines badminton team coach Carrolina Ambray

“Thirteen of our athletes have never been on a plane or stayed in a hotel before and I can see the transformation, the confidence, in all of them, interacting with people from different cultures and different parts of the world.”

She said raising funds and assembling a team is still a struggle in Zimbabwe where people with physical disabilities tend to receive more support than those with intellectual disabilities, but she has hope for change.

“It’s good that the President is here now. We look forward to more support from government. I’m hoping that this opens discourse with the government on improving conditions for people with intellectual disabilities,” she said.

Another surprise visit that caused much excitement was from Game of Thrones actor and strongman Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, from Iceland, who was spotted taking photos with athletes at Adnec, where the Healthy Athletes programme was under way. The Healthy Athletes initiative, run by the Special Olympics, offers athletes access to free health screenings and information during the Games.

Earlier, the exhibition centre was overrun with badminton players and their supporters.

Spectators cheer on athletes at Dubai Police Stadium. Pawan Singh / The National 
Spectators cheer on athletes at Dubai Police Stadium. Pawan Singh / The National 

Egyptian Ahella Ahmed, 16, who has from dwarfism and an intellectual disability, is a rollerblading athlete but came to support her friends at the badminton match on Monday.

Like many of the international teams, the athlete’s family back home was anxiously awaiting news of her victory.

“I called my mother and told her that I won at rollerblading. She said that it was natural for me to win because I was born a winner and she prays for me all the time,” said Ahella. “But I told her that I didn’t want to go back. I love the UAE. It is so beautiful and we all want to live here.”

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Crown Prince meets Special Olympics delegation

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The Philippines badminton team were not able to call their families to tell of their silver medal win, however, because they did not have a roaming package, their coach Carrolina Ambray said.

But they did not let that dampen their spirits. The Philippines has 39 athletes competing in the Games.

“We’ve never even been near a five-star hotel or dreamt of staying in one. Now we are here, competing and staying in five star hotels. The team can’t believe it. They are so happy,” said Ms Ambray.

Irina Egorova wins the first round of the women's kayaking at the Sailing and Yacht Club. Victor Besa / The National
Irina Egorova wins the first round of the women's kayaking at the Sailing and Yacht Club. Victor Besa / The National

Across the capital, at the Sailing and Yacht Club, families and supporters ran up and down the beach cheering for athletes competing in the kayaking and sailing competitions.

Yan Eichler’s entire family came from Germany for the first time to support him. He did not disappoint, taking home the silver in the 200-metre unified race.

Mr Eichler, 44, has been kayaking for seven years but upped his training over the past few months to four times a day to prepare for the Games.

“I am so proud of him,” his mother, Ultike Eichler, said.

Over in Dubai, Kimura Mayaka from Japan set a blistering pace in the women’s 100m final to take home the gold.

The athlete, 30, clocked 13.84 seconds and left the rest of the field in her wake at Dubai Police Stadium.

Emirati sprinter Hamda Al Hosani picked up the silver medal in another division of the 100m final with a time of 15.47s, just over a second behind Cintia Muller of Argentina with the winning time of 14.65s.

It was Ms Al Hosani’s second medal at this year’s Games, after winning the gold in the 200m race.

Updated: March 19, 2019 09:55 AM

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