Dubai: A handpicked group of eight UAE athletes will fly the country’s flag in a series of international competitions this year - trying to make a mark as a regional power.
The UAE Athletics Federation has put its trust in experience in the form of middle distance runner Alia Mohammad Saeed, but at the same time, given younger faces an opportunity to prove themselves at various competitions starting from early next month.
First up for UAE athletics will be the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships, to be staged at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar in eastern Indian state of Odisha from July 6-9. This will be followed by the Pan-Arab Athletics Championships to be held in Tunisia from July 12-17. The real test for all is expected to come at the 16th edition of the IAAF World Championships in London from August 5-13, followed by the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, from September 17-27.
“Each one of these competitions is important in our planning for the future of athletics in the UAE,” Ahmad Al Kamali, President of UAE Athletics Federation and also a member of the IAAF Council, told Gulf News.
“We have laid out a plan for the future, and that is the reason why we have deliberately given an opportunity to some of the younger athletes at various regional and continental competitions. The IAAF World Championships in London will be the final focus this year for all of them,” he added.
Making up the eight-member list is the experienced Alia Saeed Mohammad in the 1,500m and 5,000m runs along with Saoud Al Za’abi, who will run the 800 m and 1 500m. Khalil Khalid, one of the most promising athletes coming through the junior ranks, will make his international debut in the 5,000m while the 4x400m relay squad of five, including a substitute, will include Omar Al Sulfa, Ali Moosa, Saoud Abdul Karim, Mayouf Hassan and Bilal Al Sulfa.
The UAE’s drive towards international excellence has received a further boost with former world and Olympic champion Saeed Aouita joining the UAE AF as a consultant, with the Moroccan legend tasked to carry forward the country’s distance running talent. “These athletes carry a lot of hope for our country, and we could not have had anyone better than Aouita to guide them,” Al Kamali said.
“Most of our athletes are currently at various altitude training camps in Morocco, Tunisia and Europe so that they have the best facilities of preparing for a tough season ahead. We have expectations of winning medals at each of the competitions that our athletes will participate. But the greater focus is to prepare a set of world-class athletes who can then trigger off and inspire a new generation,” he added.