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.”


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”