I want Saudi rowers to burst onto the world scene, says coach Mat Tarrant

I want Saudi rowers to burst onto the world scene, says coach Mat Tarrant
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Mat Tarrant is aiming to transform Saudi talent into global stars. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 September 2023
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I want Saudi rowers to burst onto the world scene, says coach Mat Tarrant

I want Saudi rowers to burst onto the world scene, says coach Mat Tarrant
  • Former British double world champion eyes rowing greatness for the Kingdom against the odds, starting with this month’s Asian Games

LONDON: Against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s sweeping, sun-drenched deserts, Mat Tarrant faces a monumental challenge to develop elite rowers capable of competing on the global stage.

Yet the Saudi Rowing Federation’s performance director and head coach is spearheading a rowing revolution in the Kingdom against all the odds.

The historic appearance of the country’s first rowing Olympian Husein Alireza at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics fueled Tarrant’s belief that Saudi Arabia has the potential for greatness.

But, as the British double world champion told Arab News, transforming a rowing minnow into an established force will take time and relentless commitment.

“I think my passion overruns sometimes,” Tarrant said as he prepared for this month’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. “I don’t know how to take any time off for myself. I don’t tend to go on holidays.

“If I take a rest day, I end up just walking to my desk and I sit there all day, analyzing data, putting annual plans together, always trying to think ahead and think about what’s next. But I love what I do. I’m incredibly fortunate to be in this position.”

Tarrant, 33, who hung up his oars following the Tokyo Olympics, started his role in July 2022 and moved to Jeddah two months later.

For several years before this, though, he had been writing training programs for Saudi Rowing’s former president, Mohammad Hadhrawi, and four other fledgling rowers: Alireza, Sultan Al-Shali, Kariman Abuljadayel and Alia Komsany.

Tarrant fortuitously met Hadhrawi on the sidelines of the 2018 World Indoor Rowing Championships in London, where he was promoting his online coaching company RowElite.

The Saudi Rowing Federation was in its infancy then, with its five rowers eager to turn their hobby into a career. Alireza, for example, began rowing at the University of Cambridge.

Abuljadayel had already displayed her sporting prowess after becoming the first Saudi woman to run in the 100 meters at the 2016 Olympics.

“They were the five who made up Saudi Rowing (at the start) and had the drive and determination to turn it into a federation,” Tarrant said.

The federation had already recruited an esteemed British coach, Bill Barry, who won silver at the 1964 Olympics.

Tarrant, meanwhile, provided advice to the rowers by telephone and assisted Barry at UK training camps.

A seasoned rower since his teenage years, his glittering career included winning gold medals at the World University Championships in 2010 and the World Under-23 Championships in 2012.

A British Olympic team member for 10 years, Tarrant also won five World Championship medals, including golds in the eight and coxed pair events respectively in 2014 and 2015.

Tarrant replaced Barry, 83, as head coach last year, although the latter still advises Saudi Rowing and helps his successor at UK training camps.

Together, they have orchestrated the Saudi Rowing Federation’s meteoric rise — with Alireza its totemic figure.

Only four years after the federation was formed, in 2021 Alireza reached the D Finals in the men’s single sculls at the Tokyo Games.

Tarrant paid lavish tribute to the talismanic impact of Alireza, whose father Ali has succeeded Hadhrawi as the federation’s president.

“He’s a great guy and his family have done so much for the sport of rowing in this Kingdom,” he said. “Behind the scenes and in front of the camera, they’ve probably had the biggest impact out of everybody on sort of getting this sport up and running. As an athlete, Husein did an amazing job representing the Kingdom at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Since then, he was our captain when we went out to the Asian Championships in November. He stroked the men’s quad and he did a great job of mentoring those guys and helping them understand racing, because the three guys sat behind him had never competed at a rowing regatta before in their entire careers.

“He’s sort of stepped away a little bit from the athletic side of things but he’s still helping to develop the sport. He still goes out of his way to go to schools, to local clubs, and businesses and Aramco to give presentations on rowing to talk to the children about his Olympic successes and goes around trying to inspire the next generation to follow in his footsteps and take part in this amazing sport.”

Tarrant also hailed Alireza’s father Ali and the federation’s CEO Yousef Jelaidan for their “real drive and passion.”

For example, the federation organized its first large-scale training camp at Walton Rowing Club in the UK in July-August 2022. Further training camps have taken place in Italy, Vienna and the UK since then.

“Just over a year and a half ago, we didn’t have a training center and that was one of the first things Yousef did when he came in was find a building that we could train in that had access to water. Within a matter of months, he secured that,” Tarrant added.

His rowers epitomize the same ferocious dedication to the sport — a hallmark of any top athlete.

“They leave their homes at 4:30 in the morning to get here on time,” Tarrant said. “We start the morning with stretching and mobility at 5:30 a.m. By 6 a.m., they’re on the water doing a two-hour session in the heat and then following that, they drive an hour back into Jeddah to start their full-time jobs and they’re working there from about 9 or 10 o’clock until say 3 or 4 p.m. in the afternoon when they’ll then go to the gym and complete another session that’s anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

“Then, they go back into the evening and, just from my experience as an athlete, you just sit basically like a zombie on the couch, eat some food and go to sleep. That’s their day-to-day (schedule) six days a week with Fridays off.”

Tarrant coaches eight senior rowers, and one apiece in the U-23 and U-19 ranks, funded through the Saudi Olympic Training Center. There are also “four or five senior athletes who are knocking on the door of gaining selection into that elite category.”

With the ultra-professional Tarrant constantly driving up standards, Saudi rowers are continuing to flourish competitively.

For example, they won a bronze medal in the mixed relay category at the World Indoor Rowing Championships in Mississauga, Canada, in February.

Tarrant said he was determined to turn this exciting potential into competitive water performances at several upcoming major competitions.

The Asian Games, at which his rowers compete from Sept. 20, “is the big one”, Tarrant said.

“It’s like the Asian Olympics, so you have to make sure you put your best foot forward for that event. What would success be for me? If we can get one or maybe two boats in an ‘A’ final, that will be a very good step. Our best result in the Asian Championships (in Thailand in November-December 2022) was an eighth place.

“If we can make an ‘A’ final, that means we’ve made the top six and I think for a team that is incredibly new to this sport, I think for us that would be a good step in the right direction. Not only are we new to the game of rowing, but our athletes are also very new to sport.

“We’re racing athletes who have been doing this for  5-10 years and our athletes have been doing it for 1-2 years. We’re also dealing with athletes who have full-time jobs and are in full-time education.”

The Asian Games team will comprise a lightweight men’s double scull of Sultan Al-Shali and Turky Alaref; a heavyweight men’s single scull of Rakan Alireza; and a heavyweight women’s scull of Haya Almamy. The team will be supported by racing reserves, heavyweight sculler Talal Alakeel and lightweight sculler Mahmood Numan. The finals will take place on Sept. 24 and 25.

The World Masters Championships, the World Coastal Championships and the U-19/U-23 Asian Championships are also on the agenda before the season ends in mid-October.

Saudi Arabia may not have the rich rowing pedigree of the sport’s behemoths such as Great Britain, but Tarrant is bullish about its long-term prospects.

“I want us to burst onto the world scene. I want us to be competitive with those countries that are every year that are going to the World Cup and the World Championships.

“But it’s going to take a long time. We’re not going to be ready in the next year or two; it’s a long-term development strategy.

“First, we need to become competitive in Asia and once we’re competitive in Asia and we start winning medals and getting on the podium there, we can then qualify for the Olympics. Once we’re playing with the big boys at the Olympics, we can start looking at taking on the more world international levels at the World Cups and the World Championships. If we can get one athlete to qualify (for the Olympics) without the need for a wildcard, I think that would be incredible.”

However, before international excellence can be achieved, Tarrant and his colleagues have recognized the need to adopt “a structured grassroots approach” to attract youngsters.

“This year, we’ve started getting blueprints together for a talent identification scheme,” Tarrant said.

He said there was real “organic growth” in the sport, with young and old alike revelling in a “reverberation of health and fitness.”

Tarrant said: “I really feel in a fortunate position where everything we do is building something that’s going to be an incredible addition to the athletic catalog you can get when you come to Saudi Arabia.”

And, given that rowing is at such an embryonic stage in the Kingdom, “people that come through the door now stand the best chance of representing their country.”


Esports enthusiasts set for GCC League 2024 finals in Riyadh

Esports enthusiasts set for GCC League 2024 finals in Riyadh
Updated 11 June 2024
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Esports enthusiasts set for GCC League 2024 finals in Riyadh

Esports enthusiasts set for GCC League 2024 finals in Riyadh
  • ‘The enthusiasm, passion, and love for esports in all GCC nations are well-known around the globe,’ says SEF’s Chairman Prince Faisal bin Bandar
  • Contestants to battle it out for regional supremacy, share of $150,000 prize pool across Rocket League and TEKKEN 8

RIYADH: Esports enthusiasts are gearing up for a sensational spectacle with the inaugural GCC League 2024 finals in Riyadh on June 27-28, when contenders go head-to-head across the Rocket League and TEKKEN 8 competitions.
Presented by the Saudi Esports Federation, the GCC League is the newest Middle Eastern esports tournament that brings together six countries and some of the region’s greatest athletes and clubs for a series of showdowns.
SEF’s Chairman Prince Faisal bin Bandar said on Tuesday: “We cannot wait for the GCC League 2024 finale, and we share the excitement of esports fans throughout the region and beyond, ahead of what promises to be another world-class event in Riyadh.”
The first-ever edition began last month as 12 teams from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE faced off in an online Rocket League tournament, the vehicular soccer game and one of the world’s most popular titles.
Following 10 days of non-stop group stage action from May 12-21, the stage is set for exhilarating back-to-back encounters later this month.
Live from Riyadh, the remaining contestants will battle it out for regional supremacy and their share of a $150,000 prize pool across Rocket League and another world-renowned title, TEKKEN 8.
Prince Faisal said: “The enthusiasm, passion, and love for esports in all GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations are well-known around the globe — and this is one of many factors behind what makes the GCC League particularly exciting and intriguing. This upcoming event is simply unmissable for all with a vested interest in our industry.”
Among the challengers are Xenon Esports of Kuwait and the Oman National Team B. They advanced to the finals as winners of Groups A and B respectively in the tournament’s first online stage last month.
Also in the running for glory are Group A qualifiers, the Bahrain National Team, and Group B qualifiers Unity Esports (Kuwait) and KHK Esports (Bahrain).
Prince Faisal added: “Welcoming the region’s biggest and best talent for a brand-new competition is the latest illustration of our enduring commitment to provide new opportunities for regional talent to shine.”
Alongside the greatest athletes and clubs from across the region, local esports fans are sure to provide Team Falcons and Twisted Minds with incredible home support as these clubs are representing the host nation.


Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit

Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit
Updated 11 June 2024
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Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit

Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit
  • The electric car event’s longest championship season to date will include 17 races at 11 locations
  • The Kingdom will host races in Diriyah for a seventh time on Feb. 14-15 on a new track, details of which are yet to be announced

RIYADH: The provisional calendar for Season 11 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, unveiled on Tuesday, confirms a return to Diriyah early next year and reveals the event’s longest season, with the largest number of races and locations to date.
It once again includes a race double-header in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 14-15. This will be the seventh time the Kingdom has been part of the Formula E championship and the races will take place on a new track in Diriyah, the precise details of which will be announced later.
The 11th season of the pioneering all-electric racing event will for the first time consist of 17 races at 11 locations. In addition to the new track in Diriyah, the provisional calendar, subject to validation by the FIA World Motorsport Council, reveals a new race location in Miami; a double-header of races in Monaco, marking a first for the principality in any motorsport championship; a double-header in Tokyo; and the return of Jakarta to the calendar.
“For Season 11 we’re taking electric racing to the next level and doing things that have never been done before in motorsport,” said Jeff Dodds, the CEO of Formula E.
“Our world-leading GEN3 EVO will debut in front of hundreds of millions of fans around the globe, while adding two brand new locations and combinations of double-headers to grow our sport further.
“The new and improved calendar offers a perfect blend of circuits for drivers to push their upgraded cars to the limit, while staying true to our street-racing DNA and the on-track action it produces.”
The Season 11 campaign will begin in Sao Paulo on Dec. 7, following preseason testing from Nov. 4-7 in Valencia, as the all-new GEN3 EVO race car — capable of going from 0-60 mph in just 1.82 seconds, 36 percent faster than the current GEN3 vehicles — is put through its paces and tested in public for the first time.
The new circuit in Diriyah will host the first double-header of the season, and on April 12 the championship returns to Miami for the first time since the first season, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway venue, which has hosted NASCAR and IndyCar races for decades.
Monaco will will host back-to-back races on the full Circuit de Monaco for the first time, and following the inaugural Tokyo E-Prix in March this year, for which public roads in the world’s most populous city were closed for an automotive event for the first time, it will host a double header of races on May 17 and 18.
Jakarta returns to the calendar after a one-year hiatus, and the season will conclude with a double-header finale at ExCeL London. One location is yet to be confirmed, as final discussions with a new venue continue ahead of final confirmation of the calendar following the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council Meeting.
“We’re thrilled to offer a calendar with some fresh new highlights while building on our legacy locations,” said Alberto Longo, co-founder and chief championship officer of Formula E.
“Returning to Miami gives us a home in one of the US’s most iconic and sports-mad cities, while securing a double-header in Monaco is a dream come true. We can’t wait to build on the success of Tokyo and deliver a double-header, while returning to Jakarta and entertaining our huge Indonesian fanbase, too.
“With 17 races across the season and our most advanced race car debuting on-track, we’re offering our fans cutting-edge sport we could only have hoped for when founding the championship just over 10 years ago.”
Marek Nawarecki, director of the FIA Circuit Sport Department, said: “The 2024-25 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship calendar features a range of circuits that will truly showcase the qualities of the brand new GEN3 EVO car, set to be introduced next season.
“I’m glad that Formula E capitalizes on the success of the Tokyo and Shanghai races while also returning to some of its iconic venues and retaining a good amount of street circuits, which is in its core DNA. I’m also hopeful that this new season will again play host to some fascinating action on track.”


Riyadh crowned champions of Chestertons Polo in the Park

Riyadh crowned champions of Chestertons Polo in the Park
Updated 10 June 2024
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Riyadh crowned champions of Chestertons Polo in the Park

Riyadh crowned champions of Chestertons Polo in the Park
  • The Riyadh team were crowned champions after defeating the London team 6-2

LONDON: The Riyadh Polo Team emerged victorious as the 14th edition of the Chestertons in the Park championship concluded in the British capital on Sunday.

The Riyadh team were crowned champions after defeating the London team 6-2.

British player Patrick O’Dwyre of the runners-up won the award for best player in the championship, while Sofia, played by Francisco Elizalde of the Riyadh team, won best horse.

Faisal Abu Nayan, Noor Abu Khadrah, and Argentinians Francisco Elizalde and Matias Lallores made it to the final after beating the Dubai team 9-8 in the quarterfinals and the Buenos Aires team from Argentina 9-3 in the semifinals.

Amr Zidan, the president of the Saudi Polo Federation, said he was very happy that the Riyadh team had won the championship against such strong competition.


World No.1 Korda looks to maintain gold streak at Aramco Team Series in London

World No.1 Korda looks to maintain gold streak at Aramco Team Series in London
Updated 03 June 2024
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World No.1 Korda looks to maintain gold streak at Aramco Team Series in London

World No.1 Korda looks to maintain gold streak at Aramco Team Series in London
  • A historic start to 2024 for Korda with 6 wins, including Major championship
  • Defending champion is set to compete with strong field ahead of bid to retain gold medal at Olympics in August

LONDON: World No.1 Nelly Korda will be heading to London this summer in imperious form, as the history-making golf superstar defends her Aramco Team Series presented by PIF — London title at Centurion Club, from July 3-5.

Korda has been inspiring in 2024, securing six titles, including five consecutive LPGA titles and her first Chevron Championship. Her visit to London will be the only time to catch the American playing in England this year.

Overcoming grueling conditions in 2023, Korda cemented her win at Centurion Club by scoring an impressive 11-under-par, claiming her first title on British soil and besting home favorite Charley Hull in the process.

With the 2024 Paris Olympics set for August, and the Solheim Cup in September, the 2024 schedule is relentless for Korda, but the opportunity to defend her title in London was one that she could not turn down.

“Winning in London last year was definitely one of the highlights of 2023 for me. I played some really solid golf across the weekend, which showed me that my game was in a good place,” she said.

“I am very proud of the hard work I have put in the past year and it is nice to see some of the results paying off. I am always looking to improve and focus on my next event and I am excited to be coming back to the Aramco Team Series in London.”

The defending Olympic gold medalist has ascended the Rolex Women’s World Golf rankings this year, now looking untouchable at the top — but despite this success Korda is level-headed, and keen to ensure she can use her profile to inspire more young girls to take up golf.

“It is inspiring to be in a position to have a positive influence on the game.

“Making an impact on the next generation is something that is important to me. I try to inspire young girls and boys to encourage them to pick up a golf club for the first time — and the Aramco Team Series is a big part of that, as I’ve seen firsthand how their initiatives can have such a positive impact on the next generation.”

Already announced for the event are English duo Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, each looking to build on positive outings of their own in 2023 — and this time, overcome Korda on their home soil.

The duo will be part of a field that boasts a host of Olympians and Major winners, with the innovative team event attracting a blend of stars from both the LPGA and Ladies European Tour.


Saudi jiu-jitsu team scoop 5 medals at world championship

Saudi jiu-jitsu team scoop 5 medals at world championship
Updated 03 June 2024
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Saudi jiu-jitsu team scoop 5 medals at world championship

Saudi jiu-jitsu team scoop 5 medals at world championship
  • Kingdom’s jiu-jitsu team scoop 5 medals — 2 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s jiu-jitsu team have scooped five medals — two gold, one silver and two bronze — at the World International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship in California, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.

Abdullah Nada and Omar Nada won heavyweight and open-weight gold respectively at the event that ended on Sunday.

In addition, Abdullah Nada won silver in the open-weight division and Omar Nada bronze in the heavyweight division.

Alanoud Al-Tamimi won bronze in the women’s featherweight division.

Bandar Al-Zaid, Saudi Arabia’s consul-general in Los Angeles, was present to support the team.

Head of the delegation, Mubarak Al-Qarni, praised the athletes for their performances.