Saudi Arabia's young athletes return from Youth Olympics with hope and expectation

Karate kid Mohammed Al-Assiri won Saudi Arabia's first Olympic gold at any level. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Saudi Arabia's young athletes return from Youth Olympics with hope and expectation

  • Saudi young guns hopeful for future with glory at Tokyo and Paris Olympics on their minds.
  • Yousif Jalaiden, the Saudi delegation’s chef de mission, tells young stars 'the hard yards start now.'

BUENOS AIRES: With heavier hand-luggage and loftier dreams, the Saudi athletes who competed at this month’s Youth Olympic Games will arrive back in Riyadh on Saturday, their medals suggesting reaching Tokyo 2020 is a target as attainable as it is alluring.
The Kingdom brought nine athletes to Argentina and left with a historic gold in karate and two bronze, one each in weightlifting and the 400m hurdles. Mohammed Al-Assiri’s momentous triumph in the final of the Men’s Kumite -61kg on Wednesday night represented the county’s first Olympic gold at any level. It also ensured Buenos Aires will be remembered as Saudi Arabia’s greatest medal haul, eclipsing the one bronze and one silver secured at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. 
Al-Assiri, 16, was awarded SR1 million riyals by Turki Al-Sheikh, head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, for his achievement. 
“Of course, we are delighted. We came here hopeful and we leave with our best ever performance,” said Yousif Jalaiden, the Saudi delegation’s chef de mission, before boarding the flight to Riyadh. “We expected two medals but hoped for three, although we did not know which colors they would be. To get the three and a gold, that’s why we are so happy. Thanks to God, it’s been a great success.”
The two-week campaign was somewhat of a slow-burner; the first seven days passing without as much as a glimpse of a medal for the delegation marked “KSA.” Swimming, taekwondo and fencing all failed to produce tangible reward, although the delegation’s youngest athlete, fencer Ali Saeed Al-Bahrani, took much consolation from the experience
“We will benefit a lot from this participation,” said the 15-year-old, who had been invited to contest the Men’s Sabre Individual and progressed through his group before being defeated in the last-16. “God-willing, this here will help us enjoy better success in the future.”
The midway point of the games marked a change in fortune — and provided genuine reasons for positivity ahead of the Olympic Games proper, which takes place in less than two years. Ali Yousef Al-Othman had finished third at the Asian Championships in April, but a dedicated training program and the assistance of Egyptian coach Khaled Qur’any helped him emulate that feat on the world stage. 
Al-Othman was understandably confident after accepting his bronze medal, telling Arab News that Tokyo is now at the forefront of his mind. “My dream was to win a medal at the Youth Olympics,” he said. “Now that dream has changed and I will work harder than ever to make Tokyo 2020 a reality.”
Qur’any, who has coached at the past two Olympics, however, was keen to keep his athlete’s feet on the ground, a feat possibly made trickier by the awarding of SR200,000.
“He is only 16, so I think Tokyo will come too soon for him,” Qur’any said. “Paris in 2024 is different — we would hope to be there. Ali has the potential, but there is a lot of work to be done before we can think of that.”
On the athletics track, Raghad Bu Arish won her heat in the 100m but her time was some distance off the pace. Mohammed Al-Muawi, meanwhile, benefited from the disqualification of South Africa’s Lindukhule Gora in the Men’s 400m hurdles to leap up a place and on to the podium. It was his first competitive event and the culmination of more than five months of training in California with American former World Championships silver medallist Ryan Wilson.  
“This medal is an amazing achievement for me,” said Al-Muawi, who was also awarded SR200,000. “I need to thank my coach. I hope to keep working with him. He always gives me so much support. Next year I have the Asian Championships and some Arab races, but of course I am dreaming about Tokyo. I want to challenge the best in the world, guys like Karsten Warholm from Norway and Abderrahman Samba.” 
The Asian Athletics Championships are scheduled to take place in Qatar next April, before the IAAF World Championships five months later. Jalaiden confirmed Saudi Arabia intends to send a delegation, adding he hopes the results in Buenos Aires can help inspire more victories at this level.
“We hope that we can take this success and build upon it ahead of Tokyo,” said Jalaiden. “And also use the experience here to help the next generation of Saudi athletes who will compete at the 2022 Youth Olympics (in Senegal). The hard work starts all over 
again now.”


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.