Jordan out to set the bar high at start of Middle East Rally Championship

Expect to see a lot of exciting jumps and action across the course of the championship.
Updated 25 April 2018
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Jordan out to set the bar high at start of Middle East Rally Championship

  • Jordan first leg of this year's six-rally championship.
  • Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah revving up for a crack at a 14th title.

LONDON: Perhaps taking the lead from the races on its calendar, the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has run a rocky course in recent years; a mixture of super, special moments and bumps delaying its natural progress. 
For various reasons the MERC calendar has concertinaed in recent years, going from eight races in 2015 to just five last season. This year’s calendar will feature six, marking the return of the Kuwait Rally. It also, however, involves Qatar switching from its traditional slot as the season curtain-raiser to the final race, most likely as a means of delaying any issues that may stem from the ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet.
Yet all these subplots and possible political machinations will fade today as the new season gets underway in Jordan. With a timed two-kilometer super-special stage on the shores of the Dead Sea, the surrounding water may be stagnant but the championship will very much come alive.
“We are finding ourselves in the unusual position of opening the championship this year,” Othman Nassif, the CEO of Jordan Motorsport, told Arab News. “This is a huge honor for us (and) we promise to deliver a stunning launch to the championship that will set the bar high for the rest of the season.
“We are focussing on our event and our event only, and of course hoping that other countries host successful rallies. We also hope that those that have left the calendar in recent years return to make the Middle East Championship one of the best regional circuits in rallying.”
The Jordan Rally has been practically ever-present on the international rally circuit since its inaugural event in 1981, including a trio of appearances on the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the reigning MERC champion, regards it as one of his favorite races and has previously stated he would like to see it return to the WRC in the future.
Al-Attiyah, who will drive a Ford Fiesta R5 over the demanding gravel stages, is chasing history this season. Having won the MERC title 13 times in 15 years, the Qatari now holds just one championship fewer than Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the legendary UAE rally driver and current FIA vice president.
Victory for Al-Attiyah this weekend, as well as putting him on course to equal Ben Sulayem’s record of 14 titles, would also result in him equalling the Emirati’s record of most wins in Jordan. While Ben Sulayem won 12 times between 1984 and 2002, Al-Attiyah has won all but four events in the Hashemite Kingdom since claiming his first in 2003.
“People talk about records and, yes, it is nice to win rallies and break records, but it’s not about that,” said Al-Attiyah. “It is very important to keep this championship. We need to work to improve and keep it alive. Jordan is doing a very good job to keep the championship strong. We have seen ups and downs in the past and we always got through those. I am sure the championship will come back very strong.”
While critics argue that Al-Attiyah’s dominance threatens to detract from the championship, for Nassif, it should only motivate other drivers in the region to improve. He insisted fans of the Middle East championship must appreciate what they are seeing.
“To have Nasser with us this weekend going for a record is something special,” said Nassif. “But of course anything can happen in rallying and he knows he will again have to be at his best to win here.”
The four-day race will be held over 15 special stages throughout the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas. Organizers have run an extensive marketing campaign in the country to promote the event and expect a strong turnout, helped by free ticketing, and those who make the trip will, according to Nassif, be witnessing one of the greats.
“To be at the top of your game for so long takes something special. Nasser, like Mohammed before him, has been a real giant of motorsport not just in the Middle East, but also in world motorsport in general by winning the famed Dakar Rally. The challenge is there for the next generation to come and end his domination.”
 


MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY SCHEDULE

These are the six races that will make up this year’s Middle East Rally Championship

26-28 April - Jordan Rally
15-17 June - The Cyprus Rally
6-8 July - Rally of Lebanon
5-7 September - Iran International Rally
1-3 November - Kuwait International Rally
15-17 November - Qatar International Rally


Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri wins historic first gold for the country.
Updated 18 October 2018
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Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

  • The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics
  • I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, said the gold medalist

BUENOS AIRES: It is said that the karate-ka who has given the necessary years of commitment and meditation to the sport is both fearless and tranquil. They can, it is said, be calm even in a burning building.

Last night, inside a furnace-like Europe Pavilion at the Youth Olympic Park, and in front of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri won the Kingdom its first ever Olympic gold medal. And welcomed it, initially at least, with utmost calm. 

Defeating Masaki Yamaoka of Japan 8-0 in the Men’s Kumite -61kg final, the 17-year-old Saudi immediately thanked his opponent and bowed to the various officials, before turning to his coach, removing his red gloves slowly, and greeting him with a starch salute. Only afterwards, once these rituals of respect were over and his opponent had slipped away, did Al-Assiri explode with joy, his face contorting into beautiful agony as he screamed in guttural Arabic and jumped around the mat.

“I am so happy, so proud,” he said, his prize glinting in the spotlight of the world’s media. “This is the first gold medal for Saudi Arabia and our first medal ever in karate. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, especially in the past two when my training intensified. I came for gold and this is the result of years of serious work. It was very difficult, but I am just so proud. Thank you to Allah.”

The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics, after bronze medals in weightlifting and 400m Hurdles. It is a stellar return for a country that brought only nine athletes to Argentina and has won just one medal at this level before, a bronze in equestrian four years ago. Yousef Jalaiden, the chef de mission for the Saudi delegation, had confidently predicted medals earlier this week, but even he admits expectations have been exceeded.

“We are very happy right now,” Jalaiden said, watching as Al-Assiri, wrapped in the Saudi flag, posed for photos with Prince Fahd bin Juluwe bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, the head of the delegation. “It’s our best achievement ever at an Olympics — be it Youth or the full Olympics. We are so happy — we hoped for three medals, like I said before, and we got them,”

Karate is making its Olympic debut this week ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Assiri had secured his place after winning at the first qualifying event in Croatia this summer. In front of vocal support from Saudis and Egyptians, he was handed the historic victory after his offensive front-footed display culminated with Yamaoka fouling four times during their bout.

“During training, people from other countries were all telling us Mohammed would take gold, but for us it was never a certainty,” Jalaiden added. “We expected him to reach the final, but when you get to a final, anything can happen. He has been training exceptionally hard though and it has all paid off.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Egypt’s Yasmin Nasr El-Gewily won the Women’s Kumite 53kg final, defeating Japan’s Rinka Tahata 2-1. “Egypt are our neighbours and we have an excellent relationship with them, so today it is like our nation is one,” said Jalaiden. “We have both enjoyed great success here.”