Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics

 Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics
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Alpine Skier Fayik Abdi is Saudi Arabia's first ever Winter Olympian. (Supplied)
 Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics
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Alpine Skier Fayik Abdi is Saudi Arabia's first ever Winter Olympian. (Supplied)
 Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics
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Alpine Skier Fayik Abdi is Saudi Arabia's first ever Winter Olympian. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 February 2022

Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics

 Saudi skier shrugs off pressure of historic Beijing Winter Olympics
  • Fayik Abdi is the first and only Saudi Winter Olympian and hopes he can inspire others to emulate his mission impossible

LONDON: Fayik Abdi could be forgiven for basking in the glory of becoming a Saudi Arabian national hero.

The giant slalom skier has achieved the unthinkable by qualifying for the Beijing Winter Olympics after only seven months’ training and during a global pandemic.

He is the first and only Saudi to have achieved this gargantuan feat, but the self-deprecating Abdi is eager to avoid the limelight.

“I don’t want this to be about me,” Abdi told Arab News ahead of the Games, which take place on Feb 4-20. “I don’t want the attention, I don’t want the spotlight.

“I want this to be about Saudi. I want this to be about other Saudis and I want to inspire them to find a passion, to do new things and tell them that anything is possible and nothing is impossible.”

Abdi’s tale of the unexpected began when the newly formed Saudi Winter Sports Federation offered him the chance of a lifetime last March.

The SWSF harbored a seemingly fanciful ambition of sending Saudi sports talent to the Winter Olympics and duly helped Abdi to fund top coaches, a training program and his travel to competitions.

The 24-year-old is no skiing rookie, though, having dedicated his life to the sport since taking it up at the age of four.

As such, he has great confidence in his ability and an innate cool-headedness.

“I’m going to stay relaxed,” he said ahead of his race on Feb. 13. “The only thing I’m nervous about is catching COVID at the Olympics or right before it, but I’m not as nervous (about anything else) as you might imagine.

“That’s kind of my personality.”

So how did a man from a desert nation become so captivated by skiing?

“My mother was a recreational skier and she taught me how to ski in Lebanon. Ever since then, I fell in love with the sport and have been trying to pursue it,” said Abdi, who was born in San Diego, California, to two Saudi parents, but who grew up in the Kingdom between the ages of three and 14.

“When I turned 14, I went to boarding school in Florida and wanted to be a professional football player. But to be honest, I kept getting injured playing football.

“I kind of had to give it up and said to myself: ‘I wanna go somewhere where I can ski.’ I felt like that was my calling.

“I went to the University of Utah in 2016. I studied criminal justice. If you ask ‘why?’, it’s because I wanted to study something relatively easy so I could ski,” he said, laughing.

“While at university, I also worked as a ski technician tuning skis and took online classes and basically skied for 120-plus days every season. I wasn’t racing, I was just free riding. It was the best time of my life because I was doing what I loved.

“When I ski, I don’t worry about anything. I’m only thinking about skiing and being in the present moment.”

After graduating in December 2020, he returned to Saudi and started a project aimed at bringing sand-skiing to the Kingdom.

While doing this, he responded to an advert looking for Saudi skiers to film a photoshoot at NEOM, the new net-zero megacity on the Kingdom’s northwest Red Sea coast.

The SWSF’s CEO, Sultan Salama, had heard of Abdi’s skiing prowess and asked him to meet him and his colleagues in Riyadh.

“They asked me if I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Abdi said. “I didn’t know if they were for real. I was like: ‘Well, the Olympics is in 11 months and I’ve never trained for anything like that.’

“They asked me to look for a training program and a coach and I found someone, Jeff Books, a Canadian guy (and experienced skiing director).”

After starting training in Austria last August, Abdi and his team trained and competed in countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Montenegro and Italy.

But his arduous regime was made even harder by COVID-19’s disruptive impact.

“It’s been really challenging because we haven’t been able to go to races we wanted to go to because of cancellations, and we haven’t been able to train at venues.

“It’s just a challenge that adds to the journey, and I think it makes (my qualification) even more sweet.”

Books and his fellow coaches had understandably felt Abdi’s Olympic qualification hopes were “extremely difficult to the point of impossible.”

“They’re even surprised about where we’re at right now,” Abdi said. “They’re completely mind-blown, to be completely honest.”

Abdi competed in “about 11 races” in Europe and explains the Olympic qualification criteria thus: “You need to have five results to average below 160 points. So basically add your best five results, divide that by five and that’s your average. 

“The best skier in the world has zero points and our objective was to average below 160 points, and if you do this you have qualified, basically. I have 131 points.”

Explaining his grand slalom discipline, he said: “In alpine skiing, you have four disciplines — slalom, giant slalom or GS, super-G and downhill. Slalom is the slowest one as in speed, GS is second, super-G is third and downhill is the fastest.

“In GS, you have gates that are set around 25-32ish meters apart and you race through the course to the finish twice. Whoever has the best time in the two runs basically wins the race.”

Two of Abdi’s teammates, Rakan Alireza and Salman Al-Houwaish, also secured the points that they needed to qualify for Beijing 2022, but have agonizingly missed out on selection.

Abdi said Alireza, a cross-country skier, needed to have participated in a World Championship to qualify.

Al-Houwaish, meanwhile, was pipped by Abdi on account of his inferior world ranking of 3,722 as opposed to Abdi’s 3,512.

“It’s been really tough for Salman and I for the past two or three weeks,” Abdi said. “When we first started this project, we were told we would both be able to go if we both qualified. Once we both qualified, we found out that only one of us could go and that changed the whole scenario.

“This is life and this is sports and sometimes it’s like cruel like that.

“I feel for him and consider him (to be) like a brother. I know he’s going to do great things in the ski industry and in life.”

Abdi is flying the flag for Saudi alone in Beijing. Undaunted, he insists he is not there to make up the numbers or to revel in the “glamor” of the occasion.

He cites Wayne Rooney as his greatest inspiration, given the legendary ex-Manchester United and England footballer’s “competitive tenacity,” and hopes to display such a quality in China.

“My goal is just like every race: Just to try and ski the best you can. A race is just skiing and I think that’s what a lot of racers forget sometimes; they try and do something different in a race to what they do in training.

“I want to beat as many nations as I can. I’m going to be competitive.

“This is a long-term journey for me. I’m not just doing this to get to the Olympics. I want the next Olympics and then the next one.”

Whatever happens next in his incredible skiing odyssey, Abdi said that he owes everything to the SWSF.

“They’re legends in my opinion. They really shot for the stars and it’s amazing that they had the trust to send us out there with seven months of training and hope we would qualify for the Olympics. I give them so much credit for trusting us, for supporting us, and really just their ambition is truly remarkable.”

Abdi himself is truly remarkable and it is touching to learn that he wants to leave a lasting legacy when he hangs up his skis.

“Honestly, my biggest dream and accomplishment would be to breed a major male or female skier and have them become World Cup skiers who are constantly on the circuit winning races and putting Saudi Arabia on the map.”


Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
  • Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds
  • First pole position, it's always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said

SILVERSTONE, England: Carlos Sainz was fastest in the rain in Saturday qualifying for the British Grand Prix to earn his first career pole position in his 150th start.
He edged reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen, who was booed by some in the crowd at the end of the session.
“Maybe some of them don’t like me, but that’s fine,” Verstappen said. “I don’t care.”
Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds. It was the seventh pole in 10 races for Ferrari this season, though Sainz teammate Charles Leclerc had earned the first six poles prior to Sainz’s surprise run.
“First pole position, it’s always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said. “Kept it cool through the session and toward the end I decided to push.”
Sainz narrowly missed out on what would have been his first career win at the last race in Canada, when he finished just behind Verstappen.
Leclerc will start third, ahead of Sergio Pérez in the second Red Bull.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth for his home race as Mercedes seemed to have made progress with its problems of bouncing at high speed. His teammate George Russell was eighth.
As Verstappen spoke trackside following qualifying the boos were audible for the Dutchman. Verstappen and Hamilton collided in last year’s race, with Verstappen hitting the wall while Hamilton overcame a penalty to win.
The incident further heightened their often-bitter rivalry in a title race ultimately won by Verstappen, and turned some British fans against Verstappen. He was taken to a hospital for observation following the crash and complained that Hamilton showed poor sportsmanship by celebrating the victory as Verstappen was being medically evaluated.
The build-up to this year’s race has been dominated by former champion Nelson Piquet’s use of a racial slur and homophobic language to describe Hamilton in an interview which was filmed last year after the crash at Silverstone. The interview did not receive wide attention until this week, ahead of the return to the track.
Hamilton and other drivers condemned Piquet. Verstappen, who is dating Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, said Piquet had used “very offensive” language but added that the Brazilian was also “a really nice and relaxed guy” who was not a racist.
Leclerc said he felt his Ferrari was “competitive” but a mistake prevented him for challenging for pole position.
“I knew it was the lap where I had to put everything together and I didn’t as a driver, so I didn’t deserve to be on pole,” he said.


French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
Updated 02 July 2022

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
  • The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club
  • Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Centre Court

WIMBLEDON, England: Whether her opponents are tournament favorites or crowd favorites, Harmony Tan keeps knocking them out of Wimbledon.
First there was Serena Williams, a seven-time champion at the All England Club. Then came 32nd-seeded Sara Sorribes Tormo. On Saturday, it was British player Katie Boulter.
“I think I like grass,” said Tan, who won three straight matches at a tournament for the first time in her career. “I really like to play with some slice, volley, everything with my game.”
The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club. She has played at the French Open four times, reaching the second round once. She also played at this year’s Australian Open and again reached the second round. At the US Open, she lost in the first round in 2018 in her only appearance at Flushing Meadows.
On Saturday, Tan beat Boulter 6-1, 6-1 on No. 2 Court. She never faced a break point in the match and converted five of the 10 she earned.
Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Center Court, the biggest stadium on the grounds. That’s where she eliminated Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, in three sets.
“It was really emotional for the first round against Serena, and after it was just play match for match,” Tan said on court. “Today was really good tennis. I don’t know why, but ... it depends (on) the day.”
Tan will next face either Coco Gauff or Amanda Anisimova. The two Americans will face each other in Saturday’s first match on Center Court.
French Open champion Iga Swiatek was scheduled to face Alize Cornet on No. 1 Court. Swiatek is the top-seeded player at Wimbledon and has won 37 straight matches.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was scheduled to follow Gauff and Anisimova on Center Court. Then Rafael Nadal, another two-time champion at the All England Club, was to play Lorenzo Sonego in the main stadium after that.


Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
Updated 02 July 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
  • Medal is the first ever international podium finish in the sport by a female Saudi athlete

Abrar Bukhari has become the first Saudi female to win an international taekwondo medal after finishing third at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships.

Bukhari took bronze in the competition’s -40 kg category, two days after Saudi colleague Riyad Al-Dhafri also took bronze in the men’s -54 kg category.

Bukhari came to prominence three years ago after winning the bronze medal at the 2019 Arab Taekwondo Championship in Morocco, the first ever women’s medal for Saudi taekwondo.

The same year, Bukhari won a bronze medal at the 10th edition of the Asian Junior Taekwondo Championships in Jordan.

Her other achievements include bronze at the Fujairah Open Championship and the silver of the 2019 GCC Games in Kuwait.


PIF-backed LIV Golf announces $1m commitment to support Portland charities

PIF-backed LIV Golf announces $1m commitment to support Portland charities
Updated 02 July 2022

PIF-backed LIV Golf announces $1m commitment to support Portland charities

PIF-backed LIV Golf announces $1m commitment to support Portland charities
  • The donation builds on the launch of the organization’s ‘LIV to Give’ social responsibility initiative

LIV Golf has announced it will donate $1 million to support local environmental and community-based organizations in Portland, Oregon, and surrounding regions for this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Portland, the second tournament of the season.

The grant builds on the organization’s launch of the “LIV to Give” corporate social responsibility initiative, which supports education, environmental sustainability and golf development programs, as well as the well-being of communities now and in the future.

“LIV Golf has a bold, long-term vision to grow the game of golf while driving social change in communities across the world,” Atul Khosla, chief operating officer of LIV Golf Investments, said. “Making a positive impact through collaboration with non-profit organizations and community leaders is an integral part of LIV Golf’s mission, and we are proud to support The Wave Foundation and SEALKIDS Inc., charitable groups committed to protecting our future through environmental support and youth development.”

The Wave Foundation and SEALKIDS will both benefit from LIV Golf’s charitable support.

The Wave Foundation will use the funds towards its continued efforts to accelerate environmental programs that address climate change, environmental justice, and youth engagement. Through this grant, LIV Golf will also contribute to the foundation’s ongoing collaborations to develop a more equitable and resilient food system, as well as partnerships with indigenous regional communities that advance environmental sustainability and equity.

As part of this donation, the foundation will continue supporting and expanding its programs for meeting the needs of indigenous communities through food and nutrition relief, connecting local food producers to the marketplace, and collaborating on additional self-sustaining economic developments.

“The Wave Foundation is very close to my heart for its unwavering commitment to our Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs,” said Delson Suppah Sr., tribal elder for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “I appreciate the support of our tribal way of life and recommendations. I am grateful and humbled by this generous contribution and the continued efforts to help us achieve our mission.”

SEALKIDS is the only national non-profit organization devoted to providing specialized educational support for children in the US Navy SEAL Community. Through this grant, LIV Golf will help children, including those based in the Oregon region, who live in extraordinary circumstances. SEALKIDS’ approach of academic testing, tutoring, therapy, advocacy, and enrichment has a positive transformational impact on the lives of these children, and prepares them for a lifetime of confidence and success.

“Children in the Navy SEAL community have different challenges than other students. This generous donation from LIV Golf will create a lasting impact for our organization and the children we serve,” said Greg Bonifield, SEALKIDS chairman of the board.  “This grant will help expand our reach as we work to fulfil our mission."

Each beneficiary receiving funds will work alongside LIV Golf to ensure the programs deliver value in the local communities.

LIV Golf is owned and operated by LIV Golf Investments whose vision and mission are centered around making sustainable investments to enhance the global golf ecosystem and unlock the sport’s untapped worldwide potential.


Emirati racer Amna Al-Qubaisi shows her bravery as she sets the pace for female drivers in the region

Emirati racer Amna Al-Qubaisi shows her bravery as she sets the pace for female drivers in the region
Updated 02 July 2022

Emirati racer Amna Al-Qubaisi shows her bravery as she sets the pace for female drivers in the region

Emirati racer Amna Al-Qubaisi shows her bravery as she sets the pace for female drivers in the region
  • Alongside father Khaled and sister Hamda, the 21-year-old took the wheel in the Asian regional championship for Abu Dhabi Racing team this year

What Amna Al-Qubaisi lacks in physicality, she more than make up for in bravery and fortitude.

The 21-year-old Emirati driver, who races for Abu Dhabi Racing, suffered a heavy crash earlier this year that left her F3 car badly damaged.

A week later, she was back behind the wheel.

It has been an eventful start to her participation in the Formula Regional Asian Championship.

“I had been off of racing for a year and coming back into it, getting back into the rhythm took me a while,” Al-Qubaisi told Arab News at the sideline of the #WhatSheSaid talk, a panel of inspirational female athletes from the region.

“In my first race weekend, I claimed my first points, so it started off really well. And then I had that big crash, and I had to start gaining that confidence to get back into the rhythm.

“But overall, it was a really good race weekend, and I managed to close the gap for my teammates.”

Those teammates happen to be her father, UAE racing legend Khaled, and her 19-year-old sister Hamda. Amna has enjoyed building up the sporting rapport with her family.

“It was actually really nice. I expected a lot of arguments and fighting,” she said. “But all in all, it was like a bonding moment. We gave each other advice, we helped each other on track, with slipstream and everything. So it was really nice.”

The enjoyment does not mean there have been no challenges, but the sibling rivalry has worked to the benefit of the team.

“There’s a lot of pushing (each other) with my sister as well, because she’s been competing in F4, and then coming into F3,” said Al-Qubaisi.

“We’ve seen a lot on social media people comparing us, in terms of our experience, and we try to shut that out and not let it affect our relationship. So we take it as how it is, we help each other and we both are good in our own different ways.”

Abu Dhabi Racing claimed a impressive fourth-place finish in the Formula Regional Asian Championship. Above all, Al-Qubaisi was racing at the highest level of her career so far.

“It was very challenging, especially the handling of the car; it was very physical,” she said.

“The formula regional car is a really heavy car, much heavier than the FIA F3, so physically, it was really difficult to overcome. But pace-wise I was there. It’s just a matter of consistency, trying to be more focused and putting things together.

“It took me a while to adapt to it when I was off for a year. So I was training in the gym just didn’t have that same feeling of being in the car.”

The from the early days of karting at Yas Marina and Al-Ain raceway as nine-year-old, Al-Qubaisi has set an example for other aspiring female drivers in the UAE and the region. Slowly, other are starting to rise through the ranks as well.

“I’ve heard in our team, that there are two girls competing in karting, and they’re doing pretty well,” she said. “I’ve heard also a younger female Emirati is competing in Europe. So we are seeing a couple of girls getting into the sport and raising more awareness of the sport. So, hopefully, we can see them also in single seaters, or maybe even in GT cars.”

With government backing in terms of funding, programs and facilities, there has never been a better time for young drivers to get into racing

“I think people should be taking a lot of advantage of (what’s on offer) ,” she said.

“We have really good tracks. We have an F1 track, Yas Marina has a school where they provide opportunities for people who would like to take racing as a career, as a sport. They host a lot of races at Yas Marina, and at Dubai Autodrome as well. I think we should really take advantage because it’s also at low cost. It’s much cheaper than what Europe charges. So they are helping the racing community.”

For now, the Al-Qubaisi family remains firmly in the driving seat, in every sense, and Amna has high hopes for the future.

“Next season, we’re thinking to do a few rounds in Europe,” she said. “And hopefully F3 Asia again.”