Saudi Arabia’s rowers bid to make waves internationally

Saudi Arabia’s rowers bid to make waves internationally
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Updated 08 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s rowers bid to make waves internationally

Saudi Arabia’s rowers bid to make waves internationally
  • Plan to host contests in 2025 and 2027, says national captain and Olympian Husein Alireza
  • Fledging federation has 5-time world champ Matthew Tarrant on board as rowing coach

RIYADH: The fledgling Saudi Rowing Federation plans to make a splash on the world scene with bids to host the 2025 indoor and the 2027 beach sprint championships, says national captain and Olympian Husein Alireza.

Alireza, the country’s first rowing Olympian, who competed in Tokyo in 2021, made the remarks during an appearance recently on Arab News’ podcast The Mayman Show.

He said the aim is to grow the sport in the Kingdom, which includes awareness and education activities.

“A lot of people think it’s on the machine, which they’ve only been exposed to, but rowing is on the water. It’s not really on the machine.”

Alireza said the federation’s grassroots-based plan comprises scouting, recruitment and development. Officials have been visiting schools to assess students on their fitness and biomechanical suitability for the sport. Taller people, with their longer levers tend to be more successful, but this is not always the case, he added.

The development phase has six parts, starting with learning to row and ending with specific training on how to win competitions.

The federation, formed just three years ago, is now headed by Yousaf Jelaidan as CEO, with Matthew Tarrant, a five-time world champion rower, serving as coach.

Alireza started rowing while studying at Cambridge University. He quickly excelled, coached by the renowned Bill Barry. He said Barry holds the unique distinction of having competed at separate Olympic Games in Tokyo as both an athlete and a coach, in 1964 and 2021.

Alireza’s dedication paid off with a gold medal at the Saudi Games and a spot at the Olympics. He said he trained relentlessly, three times a day, with only one day off every two weeks, for four years.

These days Alireza has been drawn to coastal rowing, as opposed to classic contests. “The coastal run just opens up whole new world and it’s a little easier to get a hold of, to master than traditional. So it’ll involve a lot more Saudis,” he said.

He said this type of rowing — which will debut at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics — is more suited to Saudi Arabia’s environment with its many beaches.

Alireza has been elected to the Olympic Council of Asia Athletes’ Committee for his contributions to the sport’s growth. He has also become an advocate for the Peace and Sport initiative, a Monaco-based nonprofit organization comprising athletes dedicated to promoting peace worldwide.

Alireza sees an exciting time ahead for the development of Saudi Arabia’s sports sector.

He pointed to the Kingdom now having over 97 sports federations compared to just 32 in 2015. Initiatives such as Nafes, a platform facilitating private sector access to licenses for opening sports clubs and academies, alongside the hosting of top-tier events, has contributed to the industry’s expansion.

“Maybe some people don’t really fully understand what the point of hosting these events are. I’ll speak from an athlete’s perspective. Number one, it encourages a competitive environment in the country. To host world-class athletes, to demonstrate world-class performances and expose the people to what it takes to perform on the world stage, that’s priceless,” Alireza said.

“It’s intrinsically linked to the Quality of Life (program), which is under the Vision 2030. So the social and economic benefits of hosting these events are undeniable and well-documented,” he added.

Alireza’s sporting journey has taken a new direction as he ventures into the world of luxury and fashion. He recently forged a partnership with global brand Nike, becoming the first rower to do so.

And he has signed with Cartier, a brand that holds deep emotional significance for him because his late mother wore one of the manufacturer’s watches her entire life.


12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
Updated 17 April 2024
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12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
  • Only three years after taking up racing, Janna Al-Nujaiman has already excelled in domestic and regional competitions against more experienced drivers
  • Janna Al-Nujaiman: My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid

JEDDAH: At only 12, Saudi’s Janna Talal Al-Nujaiman is already dreaming big. As she makes a name for herself in the Kingdom’s karting scene, she has set her sights on becoming a professional driver and ultimately racing in no less a category than Formula One.

The Jeddah resident started karting three years ago in Kyiv while living with her Ukrainian mother, and since then, she has progressed through age group levels and has gone on to rank highly in multiple national and regional races.

Unlike many young drivers coming through the ranks of different racing categories today, however, Janna does not come from a motorsport background.

She is making her way through a tough and costly sport with the support of her family, especially her father Talal Al-Nujaiman.

“I’m not really from a racing family. My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid,” she said about the origins of her passion for the sport.

From the first day, she showed a remarkable aptitude for karting.

“After my father saw how happy I was driving, he called the (instructors) and asked them about me, and my first time in karting,” Janna added. “He asked them about my performance and timing. Was it normal? The answer was no, what I did was not normal.”

In 2022, while Janna and her father were in France on vacation, she was admitted into a karting academy, which was supervised by Herve Montage, a former French rally driver.

Janna was again the least experienced among the senior candidates — a group of elite karting drivers aged 14 to 16. And yet again, the young Saudi offered a glimpse of what she is capable of.

After one month of practice and breaking records, she was asked to stay in France and continue racing, but her father, a Saudia captain, believed that the future of racing was in the Kingdom and refused all offers his daughter received.

“Based on the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and what my country has been going through in all fields, I decided to bring back my daughter to Saudi Arabia and (have her) make her way in motorsports in her own country,” Talal said.

He believes his daughter has what it takes to break into motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

“I have to be very careful what I say now so that I don’t build up pressure on her,” Talal said. “But racing today is looking for women, wants women, and she really loves racing. So, I support her as best I can.

“Making it to the top is of course a very tough road. If she wants to get there, she has to do everything and work very hard. Then she can do it.”

Talal said that his daughter started racing competitively in Jeddah in September 2023, winning her first karting competition on Feb. 24 of this year at the Track Challenge in Jeddah. A mark of her talent, she achieved this in a field of almost 100 male drivers, all older and more experienced than her, with some being university champions with 10 years of experience.

“My dream is to see my daughter representing her country,” Talal said.

For Janna however, that is not enough. Her dream is to be the first female champion in racing’s most elite series here in the Kingdom.

“My dream is to see myself in the future raising the flag of my country Saudi Arabia … by winning the F1 and (being) the first Saudi woman who will make the impossible come true,” she said.

She says she hopes to one day become as good as her motor racing idol Fernando Alonso.

Karting has historically been the birthplace of champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Alonso, whom Janna recently met.

Now she is looking for sponsorship opportunities to help keep her racing dream alive through karting and eventually other series. While she continues to count on the significant support of her father, who helps cover many racing expenses, her goal now is to add sponsors who will help push her onto the professional circuits.

Given her breakthroughs in such a short time, with the right support, the name Janna Al-Nujaiman is set to become a familiar one for racing fans across the Kingdom and the region in the coming years.


Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.


Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener
  • The Green Falcons lead Group C on goal difference as Thailand beat Iraq

DOHA: Saudi Arabia kicked off their 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

In the other Group C match, Thailand defeated Iraq 2-0 at Al-Janoub in Al-Wakrah.

The Green Falcons now have three points and lead their group ahead of Thailand on goal difference. Tajikistan and Iraq are third and fourth respectively with zero points.

Saudi Arabia took the lead on seven minutes through Rayane Hamidou, but Tajikistan struck back through Ruslan Khayloev after 23 minutes. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the first period, Saudi regained the advantage thanks to Haitham Asiri.

Saad Al-Shehri’s men looked to have put the game to bed with goals by Ayman Yahya on 55 and 61 minutes, before Rustam Soirov gave Tajikistan a glimmer of hope nine minutes later to make it 4-2.

Earlier in the day, Japan beat China 1-0 in the opening match in Group B at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, before South Korea defeated the UAE team at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s next game is against Thailand on Friday. They will then face Iraq on April 22. 

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, which sees 16 nations split into four groups of four, also acts as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The top two teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals, with the winners of both semifinals automatically qualifying for the Olympics.

The losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winner also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance to secure a place at the Games through a play-off against an African qualifier.


LeBron James and the Lakers beat Pelicans in play-in, earn a playoff rematch with the Nuggets

LeBron James and the Lakers beat Pelicans in play-in, earn a playoff rematch with the Nuggets
Updated 17 April 2024
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LeBron James and the Lakers beat Pelicans in play-in, earn a playoff rematch with the Nuggets

LeBron James and the Lakers beat Pelicans in play-in, earn a playoff rematch with the Nuggets
  • After the game, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Williamson had “left leg sorenes”
  • The Pelicans will host Sacramento on Friday, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed in the West

NEW ORLEANS: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their supporting cast have the Los Angeles Lakers looking like a tougher out in the playoffs than they appeared to be just a few weeks earlier.

The New Orleans Pelicans, meanwhile, find themselves on the brink of elimination and wondering about the health of star power forward Zion Williamson, whose dominant NBA postseason debut was cut short by an injury in the final minutes of a tight game.

James had 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, and the Lakers secured a playoff berth with a 110-106 victory over the Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

“Tonight we showcased what we were able to do both offensively and defensively,” said James, whose team enters the playoffs having won 12 of 15 games. “We’ve got a good group going right now, good rotation, good plan and guys are coming in ready to go.”

Williamson had 40 points and 11 rebounds. But shortly after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 to go, Williamson went to the locker room, throwing a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with an apparent injury.

After the game, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Williamson had “left leg soreness.”

“He’s going to have some imaging on it tomorrow and we’ll figure out more,” Green said.

Soon after Williamson went out, James hit a jumper, Davis dunked Austin Reaves’ alley-oop lob, DeAngelo Russell hit a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, after which he hit two free throws to help the Lakers hold on.

The Pelicans “threw some heavy blows at us,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “They kept swinging. We kept fighting back.

“It revealed a lot about us and what we’re made of,” he added.

Davis finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Russell scored 21, hitting five times from deep. James was 10 of 10 on free throws and Davis 8 of 10.

The Lakers advance to face defending champion Denver in the first round in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals, a sweep by the Nuggets. Game 1 is Saturday night.

The Pelicans will host Sacramento on Friday, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed in the West. The Kings eliminated Golden State in the later play-in game on Wednesday night.

“Obviously a tough loss for us,” said Green, whose team could have secured the sixth seed in the playoffs on Sunday but lost at home to the Lakers, 124-108, setting up the rematch in the play-in. “We’ve got to feel this one tonight and regroup and get ready for another one.”

Williamson, Green said, was “fantastic.”

“He settled into the game. He just continued to attack. He found seams. He rebounded the ball. He played fast,” Green continued. “(If) we have him for a few more minutes, maybe we have a chance to pull this thing out.”

The Lakers went 14 of 35 from 3-point range. The Pelicans hit 9 of 29 from deep and Williamson didn’t get a lot of help from the Pelicans’ usual high scorers. Brandon Ingram — in his second game back from a 12-game absence because of a knee injury — missed 8 of 12 shots and finished with 11 points after spending the final few minutes on the bench.

“I just like the group that was on the floor at that time,” Green said. “BI is still getting back, he’s still finding his rhythm. So, I didn’t want to force the issue.”

CJ McCollum missed 11 of 15 shots and scored nine points.

Trey Murphy III scored 12, hitting two 3s from beyond 28 feet in the second half to help New Orleans come back from an 18-point second-half deficit to tie it.

The Lakers led 75-57 after Rui Hachimura’s layup in the third quarter. But New Orleans got back in the game by outscoring Los Angeles 19-8 during the final 5:31 of the period.

Williamson sparked the surge with a pair of layups. Murphy pulled up for a 31-foot 3-pointer in the final minute of the quarter and Williamson’s free throw made it 83-76 at the end of the period.

The Pelicans finally tied it when Williamson slammed down Jose Alvarado’s alley-oop lob in transition to make it 93-all with 3:53 to go.

Looking to redeem themselves for a lackluster loss to the Lakers on Sunday, the Pelicans put together a promising opening quarter and took a 34-28 lead on Herb Jones’ 3.

Los Angeles surged into the lead by outscoring New Orleans 34-16 in the second quarter, leading by as many as 14 after James, who had 15 first-half points, hit two free throws to make it 58-44.

In the final seconds of the half, Williamson sprinted nearly the length of the court on the dribble for a floating layup at the horn that made it 60-50.


Boston Marathon winners hope victories will earn them spot in Paris Olympics

Boston Marathon winners hope victories will earn them spot in Paris Olympics
Updated 17 April 2024
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Boston Marathon winners hope victories will earn them spot in Paris Olympics

Boston Marathon winners hope victories will earn them spot in Paris Olympics
  • Even before his Boston win, Lemma already had good credentials with a course-record 2 hours, 1 minute, 48 seconds in Valencia last year
  • Hellen Obiri won her second straight Boston Marathon, outkicking fellow Kenyans Sharon Lokedi and Edna Kiplagat in the final mile to finish in 2:27:37 and win by eight seconds

NEW YORK: There are two main things to look for when picking an Olympic marathon team: speed and success.

Sisay Lemma has both.

The 2024 Boston Marathon champion says he expects to be on the roster for the Paris Games when Ethiopian officials make their decisions in the coming weeks. Even before his Boston win, Lemma already had good credentials with a course-record 2 hours, 1 minute, 48 seconds in Valencia last year that was the fourth-fastest ever run in a competitive marathon.

“Because of the fast race I ran in Valencia, the time that I got the fastest time, and also the marathon that I won here, right now from all the Ethiopian athletes I’m the fastest,” Lemma said on Tuesday, a day after winning in Boston. “So I’m confident I am the one who is going to be selected.”

Lemma blistered the Boston course with a 1:00:19 first half, opening a lead of almost three-quarters of a mile with six miles to go. He slowed over the final stretch and finished in 2:06:17 but still beat fellow Ethiopian Mohamed Esa by 41 seconds — the length of more than two football fields.

Lemma said he wanted to redeem himself after finishing 30th and dropping out in two previous Boston attempts. The Olympics are next on his redemption tour; he also dropped out of the race at the Tokyo Games in 2021.

“When I ran in Tokyo, the Ethiopian people were expecting a gold medal, and a good result. But we were not able to do it because there was so much heat,” Lemma said. “But now in Paris and we try, we will try to redeem that again and, you know, win the gold for Ethiopia.”

Hellen Obiri earned her second straight Boston Marathon crown when she outkicked fellow Kenyans Sharon Lokedi and Edna Kiplagat in the final mile to finish in 2:27:37 and win by eight seconds. The Kenyan federation first announced a provisional roster of 10 women and has since trimmed it to six.

The win makes Obiri, who also won in New York last fall, a virtual lock for Paris. But she hopes Lokedi will join her.

“We were 10 and now we are six. And Sharon was still with me,” Obiri said Tuesday. “I do hope I will be on the team with Sharon because the Paris course, it’s a tough course. It’s even tougher than Boston. If Sharon is my teammate in Paris, I will have a fantastic moment racing with her.”

Boston wheelchair winners Marcel Hug and Eden Rainbow-Cooper are also aiming for Paris. But first both are planning to race in the London Marathon next week. (Unlike elite runners, who run at most three marathons a year, wheelchair racers can be back on the road in a week.)

“Paris is definitely in my plans,” said Hug, who has won 22 major marathons and two Paralympic gold medals at the distance. “We are still in the qualifying period, but I already have some good, fast qualifying times. So it should not be a problem for me.”

Rainbow-Cooper, 22, doesn’t have the same resume but she also expects to make her first British Paralympic team. She is the third-youngest woman to win the Boston wheelchair race, and the first from Britain.

“I’ve got the times to qualify,” she said Tuesday, a day after winning Boston in 1:35:11 for her first major marathon victory. “Our selection isn’t for a few months yet, so it’s just about staying consistent. But Paris is definitely in the forefront.”

Hug said he had a mixture of pride and relief after Monday’s race, when he crashed into a barrier and flipped on his side but righted himself and still set a course record by 93 seconds.

“(I was) proud to overcome, that I still could make the fast time,” Hug said. “But also grateful that nothing worse happened, that the wheelchair is OK, that nothing is broken, no bones broken. So it’s a mix of these two emotions.”