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.”


Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
Updated 17 August 2022

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
  • The Ukrainian and British fighters hit the pads with their trainers and spoke to the media

JEDDAH: Fight Week preparations for the Rage on the Red Sea stepped up a gear on Tuesday night when 12 fighters from the card held public workouts at Jeddah’s Saudi Airlines Club.

Main event boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, who meet for the second time, at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Saturday, gave fans and the media a first glimpse of how they’re shaping up going into their heavyweight showdown.

Usyk, who defends the unified world heavyweight titles, said: “I’m very pleased that I’m going to fight very soon. I’ve been watching Anthony Joshua for years already, so I’ve learned a lot and look forward to the fight.”

Commenting on everybody in his homeland of Ukraine being able to watch the bout for free, Usyk added: “I’m also very pleased about this as we all worked hard to ensure this outcome.”

Usyk and Joshua hit the pads with their trainers and interacted with members of the public and media during their 10-minute sessions, teasing what’s to come when they go head-to-head on fight night.

“Previous experiences are helpful, but ultimately, it’s all about what you do on the night. Whoever throws and lands the most punches wins,” said Joshua. “I’m focused, ready to do my best, and get the job done.”

“Saudi Arabia’s been very good to me, shout out to everyone here (in the Kingdom),” he continued. “I’ve had a good time, everyone at the hotel and gym has been looking after me, and it’s been like a second home,” he added. “I’ve good memories of here from last time out (against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019) and it’s time to create new ones.”

Also on show was Zhang Zhilei ahead of his bout with Filip Hrgovic, rivals Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, as well as Badou Jack, Andrew Tabiti, Rashed Belhasa, and Bader Samreen.

Rounding out the dozen boxers were Ziyad Al-Maayouf and Ramla Ali, who were given huge support from those in attendance.

They will both make history at the Rage on the Red Sea as the first Saudi and female fighters, respectively, to feature on an international professional card in the Kingdom.


UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
Updated 52 min 32 sec ago

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
  • Shamma Al Kalbani was Emirate’s first woman to win a medal at World Games

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has congratulated Shamma Al Kalbani for becoming the first Emirati woman to win a medal during the World Games.

The president met Kalbani – who scooped bronze in the 63kg category women’s jiu-jitsu at the Birmingham World Games in July - alongside the other Emirati winners of the jiu-jitsu competition at the games on Monday.

The competition, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the most important global multi-sport events in the world.

The UAE grapplers won five medals at the championship, with Faisal Al-Ketbi winning gold in the 85 kilogram and open weight categories, and Mohammed Al-Suwaidi taking home silver in the 69 kilogram division. Shamma Al-Kalbani became the first Emirati female athlete to clinch a medal at the World Games, winning two bronze medals in the 63 kilogram and open weight categories.

 

 

He also congratulated the board of directors of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation and commended their efforts in developing the martial art.

In response the delegation thanked the president for his support of the sport in the country.


Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
  • The defeat in Konya ends a run of 10 consecutive victories for the Kingdom’s U-23 team

Saudi Arabia’s footballers fell short of gold in the football competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games after a 1-0 defeat to hosts Turkey in Konya on Tuesday.

The loss ends the team’s run of 10 straight victories, stretching back to the triumphant AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June, for the young Green Falcons.

The winning goal was scored by Metehan Altunbas, of Turkish club Adanaspor, in the 27th minute of the match.

Saudi’s players received their silver medals from President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who is also the president of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation.

The podium finish is Saudi’s second in the Islamic games across its five editions.

The team’s coach, Saad Al-Shehri, had previously won the competition as a player with Saudi Arabia in 2005.


Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
Updated 17 August 2022

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
  • Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second

RIO DE JANEIRO: Last year’s aborted World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina will not be replayed, the two South American countries’ football associations said on Tuesday.

The original fixture, in September last year, was halted when Brazilian health officials stormed onto the pitch after seven minutes in Sao Paulo, alleging COVID-19 quarantine breaches by the visitors.

But with nothing riding on the match as both countries have already qualified for the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 20, they had pleaded with world football’s governing body FIFA to cancel the match definitively.

“The Brazil-Argentina match will not be played,” the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and Argentine Football Association (AFA) said in a joint statement.

“AFA, CBF and FIFA have resolved the dispute at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).”

Both countries argued that playing the match as scheduled on Sept. 22 would adversely affect their World Cup preparations.

FIFA ruled in February that the game must be replayed and in May it rejected an appeal by both federations to have the match canceled, while also hitting them with fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two federations then took their case to CAS, which was due to rule this month.

Both countries qualified for the World Cup with several matches to spare in the single South American qualifying group.

Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second.

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times while reigning Copa America holders Argentina are twice champions.


Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
  • Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion

CINCINNATI: Serena Williams bowed out of the WTA/ATP Cincinnati Masters at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to US Open champion Emma Raducanu as the end of her glittering career looms ever closer.

Williams, who last week indicated that she is planning to retire after this month’s US Open, was no match for British teenager Raducanu, who romped to a 6-4, 6-0 win.

The 40-year-old Williams left the court swiftly after the defeat without speaking to television reporters and did not hold a press conference.

Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I was nervous from the first point to the last,” Raducanu said. “Serena is dangerous and can come back from any situation.

“I had to stay focused. I’m so pleased I managed to keep my composure.”

Williams, winner of titles here in 2014 and 2015, was competing in only her fourth match of 2022 after starting her season at Wimbledon due to injury.

Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of Williams and never let up.

The young Briton improved to 14 wins, 17 defeats since winning the Open last September from a qualifying start.

Raducanu meanwhile said she was honored to be part of the spectacle on Tuesday in what was one of Williams’ final games as a professional.

“We all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of playing her and for the fact that our careers have crossed.

“All she has achieved is inspirational. It’s a true honor to share the court with her.”

Raducanu never let Williams into the match.

The young Londoner seeded 10th took a 4-1 lead in the opening set and completely swept the second, advancing on her first match point, an unreturnable serve.

Raducanu committed a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen for Williams.

Williams’ elder sister Venus took a 7-5, 6-1 loss earlier in the day, losing to 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s draw of the joint event, Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tuneup with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.

The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.

He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.

“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.

“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist added. “It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”

It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019

“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said. “It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.”

Elsewhere, Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz advanced in his tournament debut, defeating American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner celebrated his 21st birthday by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).