‘My greatest honor,’ says Saudi rower with his sights set on gold

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Husein Alireza, center, says the Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather yearround make it an ideal location for the sport, which requires intensive training. (Photo/Supplied)
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Husein Alireza, says the Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather yearround make it an ideal location for the sport, which requires intensive training. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 12 February 2020

‘My greatest honor,’ says Saudi rower with his sights set on gold

  • Medal-winning Husein Alireza flies flag for Kingdom amid plans for Olympic glory

JEDDAH: Early morning training, a strict dietary regimen and long hours in the gym make rowing one of the most demanding sports in the world.

But for Saudi rower Husein Alireza, the satisfaction of seeing the Kingdom’s flag over the medals podium makes the intense effort worthwhile.

After months spent pushing himself to the limit, Alireza burst on to the international scene with a third-place finish at the 2019 Asian indoor titles in Bangkok, a medal-winning result that also put Saudi rowing on the world map.

“I was so proud to carry the Saudi flag that day and it’s a feeling that I want to experience many times again in the future,” he told Arab News while visiting Riyadh for an awards ceremony honoring international medal-winning athletes from the Kingdom.

“There is no greater honor for an athlete than to represent his country and no better feeling than to raise his country’s flag over the medals podium.”

Not content with charting his own competitive rowing career, the Saudi rower is also working to develop the sport in the Kingdom.

“Work is already underway to develop a training and competition facility in Jeddah and Riyadh. We want to have rowing as a sport in the upcoming inaugural Saudi Games multi-sport competition, and also to host inaugural outdoor and indoor national rowing championships this year,” he said.

“I look forward to this dream becoming a reality. This would be a turning point in the growth of rowing as a major sport not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the region.”

The Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather year-round make it an ideal location for the sport, he added.

Alireza began rowing competitively while studying for a master’s degree at Cambridge University.

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Husein Alireza’s achievements include gold in Molesey Regatta in London, a first in the B final of the 2019 Asian Rowing Championships in South Korea, and a finalist spot in the 2019 Asia Cup in Thailand.

“Rowing was a great way to meet people and take my mind off studies. The strict training taught me the importance of self-discipline and teamwork to achieve goals. The head coach was impressed by how quickly I improved and encouraged me to take the sport up professionally,” he said.

Alireza is now based in London, which he describes as “the rowing capital of the world.”

“It’s important I put myself in a competitive environment to make the most of my time training,” he said.

“I’m working diligently to reach my potential as a rower, and make my family and country proud. I feel I have already made a mark in the sport by being the first Saudi to win a medal in a major rowing competition.

“I would like to leave a proud legacy for Saudi rowers and remain involved in the development and growth of the sport in the Kingdom,” he said.

“At this point I’m proud to say that Saudi Arabia can be recognized as being competitive in the sport.”

Along with the bronze medal at the 2019 Asian indoor titles, Alireza’s achievements include gold in Molesey Regatta in London, a first in the B final of the 2019 Asian Rowing Championships in South Korea, and a finalist spot in the 2019 Asia Cup in Thailand.

“My performance at each competition I’ve entered shows improvement, which is the most important thing,” he said.

“The bronze medal at the 2019 Asian indoor titles was a well-deserved reward for me as I pushed myself to my physical limit to be ready for that race. So, all in all, I am happy with my competitive position now.”

Alireza said that his coach, Olympic silver medallist Bill Barry, has been “nothing short of inspiring” and is driving his training success and growth as a rower.

Like all international athletes, Alireza’s ultimate aim is to compete in the Olympics.

“I think every child dreams of becoming an Olympian whatever their sport. Olympic medals represent a world standard in achievement. Just being able to participate is a validation of the athlete’s achievement. So reaching the Olympic Games is a natural ambition,” he said.

The Saudi rower has a word of advice for young athletes looking to become rowers: “Be sure you are passionate about the sport and are willing to go to great lengths to excel. We have limited training opportunities now for rowing in the Kingdom, but interest is growing.”

Alireza praised the efforts of the Saudi Rowing Federation to support his career, and said female athletes have a major role to play in rowing’s future in the Kingdom.

“Women’s participation in sport is vital to our growth as a nation. We have had women participants in the Saudi Rowing Federation from the first day, and we are proud of the diversity of our team,” he said. “I expect Saudi women will become a driving force in the growth of sports.”

Asked if Saudi Arabia will ever host an international rowing competition, Alireza reveals his medal-winning mentality with a one-word answer: “Yes.”


Ibrahimovic’s return to training with Sweden’s Hammarby sparks rumors about future

Updated 10 April 2020

Ibrahimovic’s return to training with Sweden’s Hammarby sparks rumors about future

STOCKHOLM: AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to training in Sweden with Hammarby, the club he part owns, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to lockdown Italy, has fueled speculation regarding his future.

Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reported the 38-year-old Ibrahimovic will choose against renewing his Milan deal which finishes at the end of the season.

The Swedish outfit’s president, Richard Von Yxkull, said the decision was in the hands of the attacker who played 116 times for his country before retiring from international duty in 2016.

“It’s about knowing how Zlatan sees his future and what he wants to do,” Von Yxkull told newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Earlier in April the Spanish, Italian, French and Dutch league winner said he wanted to stay in the game after retiring.

“I want to learn something new about football, with a different angle. I will contribute from the sidelines, not on the pitch,” he told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

Ibrahimovic’s last Milan appearance was the loss to Genoa on March 8.

All football in Italy has been suspended due to the coronavirus which has claimed the lives of nearly 18,000 people in the country.

Measures to fight the outbreak in Sweden are lighter which have allowed Ibrahimovic to train with Stockholm’s Hammarby, a side which he bought a 25-percent share in last November.

Ibrahimovic started his career with hometown club Malmo before trophy-laden spells with some of the world’s biggest outfits including Juventus, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain before rejoining Milan in January.