Saudi snowboarder aspires to reach Beijing Winter Olympics

Saudi snowboarder aspires to reach Beijing Winter Olympics
Saudi Snowboarding Olympic hopeful Yousif Kurdi. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 January 2022

Saudi snowboarder aspires to reach Beijing Winter Olympics

Saudi snowboarder aspires to reach Beijing Winter Olympics
  • Yousif Kurdi reflects on his incredible journey as captain of the newly formed Saudi Winter Sports Federation

Attempting to inspire a six-man squad from Saudi Arabia to next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing after less than a year of training is ostensibly an unachievable quest. Yousif Kurdi, captain of Saudi Arabia’s first Winter Olympics squad, is also in the process of setting up his own business while undergoing eight hours of intense snowboarding training a day.

When you add in his near-death experience after a horrifying accident last month — and the fact that Kurdi has only one chance to fulfill his ambition tomorrow — then you have the epitome of an “impossible dream.”

Yet the US-born 28-year-old, who is flying the flag for his father’s native land as a snowboarder, has embraced his Herculean challenge with gusto.

“For me, what’s so inspiring about this is the fact that Saudi Arabia is a desert country, without the opportunities and options to be on snow,” he told Arab News of the incredible odyssey that began only last May when the Saudi Winter Sports Federation was formed. “But we are defying the odds in every single way.”

Kurdi is aiming for a top-three finish in his last chance of Olympic qualification in a race at Baqueira-Beret, near Barcelona in Spain, on Sunday.

But even if he achieves this, he says he would need an unlikely wildcard from Olympic chiefs on account of a pandemic-ravaged season and Saudi Arabia’s status as a fledgling winter sports body.

Whatever happens, Kurdi is simply grateful to be alive and able to participate in such a life-affirming and inspirational adventure for Saudi Arabia.

He is bidding to compete in boardercross, which involves four to six competitors per heat hurtling down a winding, undulating course that includes jumps.

“Boardercross is arguably the scariest of all the snowboarding events with the highest injury rate,” Kurdi said.

He can testify to this from a terrifying personal experience, which severely hampered his Olympic dream and could have cost him his life.

Kurdi had been training for four “super-intense” months when, the day before his first competition of a four-race series in Moninec, Czech Republic, a practice run ended disastrously.

Attempting a trick on a boardercross feature at high speed, Kurdi lost his alignment.

“My snowboard flew up, almost to the point where my body was parallel to the floor,” he said.

“I went down really hard on the back of my ankle and my face slammed into the snow. I was unconscious for a minute. Then I remember this warm feeling and someone rubbing my back. I heard my coach saying, ‘Yousif! Yousif! You’ve had a concussion. Just breathe.’

“Then I opened up my eyes, and it was like almost waking up from a dream, kind of foggy in the beginning and blurry. All of a sudden, I thought, ‘I’m alive, I’m alive.’”

Mercifully, X-rays and a CT scan showed no lasting damage, and Kurdi was discharged from the hospital the next day.

“It was super frustrating as I had been training for these four events all season, and I was absolutely ready. I was feeling great and that training day, I was actually doing fantastically, but life is the way it is. You can’t change it.”

Kurdi believes miscommunication with his coach partly contributed to his accident. He subsequently hired a replacement in Romanian snowboarding guru Kinda Geza, whom he met by chance in a sauna in the wake of his accident.

Revitalized under his new mentor, Kurdi returned to the snow with renewed vigor and a remarkably philosophical acceptance of fear.

“I think the near-death experience is the greatest thing to have ever happened to me. The appreciation I have for life is so great now. I have accepted that there’s so much out of my own control.

“I still was afraid a few times after my injury, for example when I was running my bike in Amsterdam. For some reason, I could visualize myself falling and getting really hurt. It also happened a couple of times when I saw a car approaching and experienced a fight or flight instinct.

“But now I am back on the snow, and I am with Geza. He’s the real deal, and we connect on a human level.”

Kurdi has also forged strong relationships with his fellow Saudi Olympic hopefuls and members of the SWSF, describing them as being “like one big family.”

Kurdi says two downhill skiers on the Saudi team, Fayik Abdi and Salman Al-Howaish, have already accrued enough qualification points for Beijing 2022 — although only the highest scorer of the two will eventually compete.

Another snowboarder, Faisal Al-Rasheed, and two cross-country skiers, Talal Al-Akeel and Rakan Alireza, make up the Kingdom’s contingent.

Of the squad’s camaraderie, Kurdi said: “Ahmed Shaher Al-Tabbaa, president of the federation, Rabab Mahassen, the vice president, and myself — we’ve been like the Three Musketeers. We always want to solve problems, always want to do things more efficiently, and are always trying to help other athletes whenever we can.

“I have so much respect for people who try to do things differently and go against the grain. They obviously made all of this possible, which has been life-changing for me, and I’m so happy that this program is going to be successful and the Saudi flag is going to be there in Beijing.”

The journey to Beijing began when he responded to an SWSF social media post inviting nationals with skiing or snowboarding experience to apply for a place on the Kingdom’s Olympic team.

The Amsterdam-based entrepreneur fancied a new challenge and duly applied by submitting video footage of his days competing with UCLA’s boardercross team.

Kurdi, born to a Saudi father and Mexican mother in Florida, grew up mostly in Lebanon, where he developed a passion for snowboarding.

But he stopped competing after graduating in 2015, so it was a significant leap of faith from the SWSF to select him.

“I couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Kurdi recalled of the stunning moment he learned he had been successful. “When I first broke the news to my father Ibrahim, he was extremely happy.”

But Kurdi’s father, an extremely successful businessman, was also concerned about how his son would fit in snowboard training with his work commitments.

A former McKinsey consultant, Kurdi has started a new venture in YourKitchen, a company that acquires real estate and transforms it into private commercial kitchens that are tailor-made for food delivery and collection.

“This has been really one of my biggest challenges as an athlete and as an entrepreneur. How do I split my time in such a way so I can be the most productive in all the things I am doing, whether in sports or business?

“We are reinventing restaurant real estate; it’s kind of like a food hall,” he added, stressing that he plans to donate much of the millions he expects to make to philanthropic causes.

For now, however, he is fully focused on the richness of the trailblazing journey he and his fellow aspirants have navigated.

What would it mean for him to represent Saudi Arabia at the global extravaganza, which takes place Feb. 4-20?

“It has never been about me,” he replied. “This has been about a journey of outsiders persevering through challenges, overcoming difficulties and doing the impossible, which we have already done. Saudi Arabia has already qualified and will be waving the flag at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“That’s mission accomplished for me and has been my dream since I became the captain of the team.”

The intrepid Kurdi also harbors another Olympic ambition.

He plans to set up an organization that would “democratize access to the Olympics and drive much higher participation from under-represented countries.”

In Kurdi’s universe, the word “impossible” does not figure.


Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad
Updated 29 January 2022

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad
  • The Magpies ran out 2-1 victors in a shortened, 70-minute friendly that both teams finished with only 10 men after a double red card
  • United manager Eddie Howe said: ‘It was a good work out. The standard of the game was good. The standard of the opposition was good, too’

JEDDAH: Ten-man Newcastle United ran out 2-1 winners over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad on Friday in a friendly match in Jeddah that was marred by two red cards.

The Magpies’ Ciaran Clark and Al-Ittihad’s Abderazak Hamdallah were given their marching orders in the second-half for an altercation in which the home player appeared to kick out at the Ireland international, who retaliated.

There were no lingering hard feelings, however, and the pair were pictured swapping shirts and pleasantries after the game at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium, which marked the conclusion of United’s six-day training camp in the Kingdom.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser netted for the Magpies, one in each half, bookending an equalizer just before the break by Hamdallah.

“It was a good work out,” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe. “The standard of the game was good. The standard of the opposition was good, too.

“It was a good test for us and I think when you play a game like this, that’s what you want. We were set certain challenges when the game went to 10 players each and we’re pleased we came through.”

In a game that the sides had agreed to shorten to 70 minutes, United took the lead after only nine minutes when a weaving, jinking run from Frenchman Saint-Maximin ended with the forward smashing home from inside the area.

The goal was canceled out on 33 minutes when Morocco international Hamdallah beat the offside trap before finishing expertly to put the ball past reserve keeper Karl Darlow, who was filling in for regular No.1 Martin Dubravka.

After the double red, Ryan Fraser finished a slick team move to clinch it for the Magpies with 13 minutes to go.

“Two very special goals,” said Howe. “Allan’s was typical Allan: Very special, trademark individual brilliance. Ryan’s goal was great to see, a good team goal and good finish."

Howe was less impressed by the handling of the red cards incident.

“I was surprised it was a red in a game like this,” he said. “The referee could have probably dealt with it differently — but by the book, it probably was the right decision.”

The Magpies fly home to England on Saturday. Their next Premier League game is on Tuesday, Feb. 8, when they will take on managerless Everton at St. James’ Park.


Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 28 January 2022

Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Despite frustrations in efforts to get deals over the line, several other transfers, including Man United’s Jesse Lingard, could be completed in the coming days
  • Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target

JEDDAH: Eddie Howe has confirmed that Newcastle United are edging closer to signing a target believed to be Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes — and added that the transfer-hungry Magpies are not finished with the transfer window yet.
Speaking from the club’s Saudi base, the head coach did not mention the 24-year-old midfielder by name, but assured fans that United are on the verge of their third capture of winter trading.
It is widely expected Guimaraes will sign a long-term contract with English club this weekend, after Newcastle agreed a fee, said to be in the region of $44million, with French Ligue 1 side Lyon on Wednesday.
Howe saw his players beat Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad 2-1 in Jeddah on Friday evening. Goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser in either half won it for the Magpies, who were reduced to 10-men when Ciaran Clark saw red for an altercation with home goalscorer Abderrazak Hamdallah.
Before the match, Howe confirmed that good news about transfers is just around the corner.
“I can say nothing about individual players but we are hopeful we are close to completing a transfer for a player,” he said. “We will try and give you that update when we have it. Fingers crossed, we are close to getting one over the line.”
That player is understood to be Guimaraes. When asked if that is the case, Howe responded: “You can guess; there will be no confirmation from me. It would be foolish of me to do so. We are hopeful. We are closer to getting one more in to add to the two quality additions we have brought in so far.
“From my perspective, I don’t think that will be the end of our interest in bringing new players in. If that turns into reality, who knows? Things can change very late in this window, as everybody knows. It can be quite unpredictable, with things happening in the last few days that you maybe didn’t expect.”
In terms of other specific Newcastle targets during the remainder of the transfer window, which closes on Monday night, a center forward remains high on the agenda, as does a central defender.
Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest, and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target. Arab News understands Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard is also pushing hard for a deal to be brokered with the Magpies that would allow him to see out the final months of his Old Trafford contract on Tyneside.
“We are open. We are working hard to improve the squad and give this squad the best possible chance of staying in the league,” said Howe. “That was our aim at the beginning of the window and it remains the same now.”
United have had their share of frustrations during this transfer window, with moves for Sven Botman and Diego Carlos aborted late on due to the unwillingness of Lille and Sevilla, respectively, to sell.
Howe admits things have often proved not to be straightforward but did not lay any blame at the doorstep of the Magpies’ transfer committee.
“We are in a lot better place if we can get this deal done,” he said. “The frustration I felt was only at the window, not anyone connected with the club. I see what everyone is doing behind the scenes, what everybody wants.
“This window has been difficult, regardless of our situation. It has been tough to actually get clear decisions — not from our side, from others — on what we can and can’t do and what they want to do. The work has been immense and we hope it bears fruit at the end of the window.”


Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Updated 29 January 2022

Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
  • The Dutchman defeated Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to take advantage of his pole position

DIRIYAH: Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix for a second year running ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to capitalize on his pole position under the floodlights in Riyadh.

De Vries, who missed almost all of the opening practice sessions because of a crash, managed to pull off a recovery that led to an impressive victory on Friday, ensuring a strong start to season eight for both him and Mercedes as they defend their championship titles.

“The result might be the same (as last year’s opener) but the way we achieved it was very different,” said de Vries. “I’m glad we were able to capitalize on our qualifying position; the way we managed to win this race and start the season strong, we worked really well as a team.”

An attack mode error by Vandoorne allowed de Vries to race to victory in Diriyah, as he failed to activate it correctly after leading the race from pole. After dropping behind his teammate, the Belgian driver was unable to close the gap, then took his second activation at the same time as de Vries on the following lap, effectively giving away the win to his counterpart.

“I messed up on my second activation; there’s only myself to blame for that,” said the runner-up. “I basically handed the position to Nyck. I’m a little bit disappointed with the way I handled the attack mode, and not handling the loop correctly, but it’s still a positive start to the season.”

Jake Dennis secured third place for Avalanche Andretti, after passing Andre Lotterer.

“Everything that I imagined happened, happened,” said Dennis. “We pulled away from the pack; it was generally a clean race.”

Lotterer dropped back several places, eventually finishing 13th, after Dennis passed him on turn 18 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the race. Five additional minutes were added due to the deployment of the safety car, meaning energy usage became critical.

In his first race with Venturi, Lucas di Grassi moved past Sam Bird on the straight to take fifth place. Rookies Dan Ticktum and former Alfa Romeo Formula One driver Antonio Giovinazzi had difficult debuts, with the former finishing 18th and the latter the last to take the checkered flag.

The safety car was deployed after Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland made contact with Envision Racing driver Robin Frijns on turn 17, a collision that sent Rowland’s car into the wall. It earned Frijns a drive-through penalty, while Rowland was awarded a three-place grid drop from tomorrow’s second race in Diriyah.

Season 6 Diriyah ePrix winner Antonio da Felix Costa was forced to pit and retire after the first lap.


South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Updated 28 January 2022

South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
  • Tyrell Hatton is two shots back as chasing pack eyes fresh charges

DUBAI: Overnight joint-leader Justin Harding claimed the outright lead on the second day of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after a host of potential challengers failed to capitalize at Emirates Golf Club on Friday.

Starting the day seven under par following a grandstand opening round of 65 on Thursday, Harding carded a steady four-under-par round of 68, including a magnificent eagle on the par-four 15th hole, to reach the clubhouse with a two-shot cushion at 11 under par.

“I’ve played this golf course well over the years. I had a good final round a couple years back and was in contention last year and played badly on the Sunday. My game seems to be close. If I can control the putter and make some putts, (I’m) always going to be there or thereabouts, which is nice,” said Harding.

Leading the chase is Tyrell Hatton, who is aiming for a fifth career victory in Rolex Series events this week. The Englishman bogeyed the par-four first hole for the second day running before recovering with seven birdies en route to a six-under-par round of 66.

With Harding bidding to become only the third South African to lift the famous Dallah Trophy, compatriot Erik Van Rooyen, the world number 63, fired a 67 to finish Friday three strokes behind his fellow countryman. Van Rooyen threatened to finish even closer to Harding before a sole bogey on the iconic par-four eighth hole spoiled the 31-year-old’s otherwise blemish-free card.

“It’s what we play for — to be in contention, especially in these Rolex Series events. I can’t wait for Sunday,” said Van Rooyen, who sits at eight under par alongside Fabrizio Zanotti. The Paraguayan carded a two-under-par round of 70 following an impressive 66 on Thursday.

After his three-under-par opening round of 69, Richard Bland was on course to set the early morning pace before a late collapse saw the Englishman card a double-bogey and bogey on the final two holes. Posting a second round of 68, Bland — who become the oldest-ever first-time winner of a DP World Tour event when he clinched the British Masters at The Belfry in 2021 — is in a five-strong chasing pack at seven-under alongside two-time Dubai Desert Classic victor Rory McIlroy, world number five Viktor Hovland, Poland’s Adrian Meronk, and Denmark’s Joachim B. Hanson, who began the day as joint leader.

Following a two-under-par opening round, defending champion Paul Casey is poised to challenge at minus six after a second-round score of 68.

“I made some mistakes and I wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Casey said. “I tweaked my neck and I’m not physically right, but I’m not unhappy. I’m actually quite happy that I did a good job of managing and getting round.”

Casey’s compatriot Lee Westwood, twice a runner-up on the Majlis Course, posted a second consecutive round of 69 to join Casey and fellow countrymen Sam Horsfield, Richard Armitage and Tommy Fleetwood on six under par.

Other high-profile players who will complete this year’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after making the halfway cut include world number 2 Collin Morikawa at three under par, and a raft of former Majlis Course conquerors, notably 2017 champion Sergio Garcia at three under par; 2018 champion Li Haotong at one under par; and 2012 winner Rafa Cabrera-Bello at one over par.

In a boost to home hopes, UAE-based amateur Josh Hill, 17, will see out all four rounds of his maiden Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic appearance after a two-over-par round of 74 left the young Englishman sitting at level par through 36 holes.

“It was a bit of a struggle to be honest. I didn’t play that well, so I’m proud of the way I dug in and kept positive,” said Hill. “Even though it was disappointing, there are lots of positives. I dug deep which I’m pretty happy with.”

Elsewhere, fans of all ages are making the most of free entry to the event, experiencing a wide range of food and entertainment offerings in a buzzing Tournament Town, which is open until 11 p.m. daily though to Sunday.

The Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will continue its commitment to breast cancer awareness on Pink Saturday, with players, caddies, officials and fans encouraged to wear something pink for the cause.

Held in partnership with Al Jalila Foundation, Pink Saturday will see Tournament Town run a ‘Best Dressed’ competition and on-the-spot prizes for spectators. In addition, visitors are encouraged to post images of a special flower display to their social media channels to further raise awareness.


Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
Updated 28 January 2022

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
  • Rooney said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club
  • “I believe I will be a Premier League manager," the former England and Manchester United striker said

DERBY, England: Wayne Rooney turned down the chance to interview for the manager’s position at former club Everton, saying Friday he wasn’t ready to leave his current job at second-tier Derby.
Rooney, who started his playing career at Everton and had a second spell at Goodison Park before retiring, said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club.
“I believe I will be a Premier League manager,” the former England and Manchester United striker said. “I believe I’m ready for that, 100 percent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great.
“But I’ve got a job here that I’m doing at Derby County which is an important job to me.”
Everton are looking for a replacement for Rafa Benitez, who was fired this month as the team slides toward the relegation zone. Everton are in 16th place and just four points above the bottom three.
Rooney has been Derby’s manager since November 2020 — previously he’d been the team’s player-coach — and has received plaudits for the job he has done at the club amid its financial crisis.
Derby entered administration — a form of bankruptcy protection — in September and have been docked a total of 21 points this season because of their financial problems. They are in next-to-last place in the Championship, eight points from safety.
Rooney said last week he was “flattered” by the speculation linking him with the Everton job.
Frank Lampard, Rooney’s former England teammate, is among the favorites to fill the vacancy.