Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people
For Ziyad Almaayouf, Knockout Chaos at Kingdom Arena on March 8 will provide a platform to extend his so far perfect record of 4-0. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people
  • 23-year-old will fight on undercard of Knockout Chaos in Riyadh on March 8

RIYADH: The eyes of the boxing world will once again turn to Riyadh on March 8, when Knockout Chaos sees the highly anticipated bout between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou.

No less significant a narrative for the sport in the Kingdom will be that of Ziyad Almaayouf, the rising star of Saudi boxing, gracing the undercard with the biggest fight of his career so far.

For Almaayouf, 23, Knockout Chaos at Kingdom Arena will provide a platform to extend his so far perfect record of 4-0.

The super-lightweight fighter said: “I feel like being the Saudi fighter and fighting in Saudi, the map is already there for me to do that. All I need to do is walk on that yellow brick road, you know what I mean?

“When you’re a fighter at my stage and you’re approaching such a big stage, your number one thought is to just make the right statement, which is to get the win. That’s all that matters.”

Almaayouf, who fights out of California, made history in August 2022 on the Joshua versus Oleksandr Usyk card in Jeddah as the first Saudi boxer to win a professional fight, against Mexican Jose Alfredo Alatorre.

Despite the intense attention Knockout Chaos has been receiving, Almaayouf was confident of remaining calm going into the fight.

“Once I’m in that ring, I can control all of that. But before that, all I can control is visualizing my performance, getting the win; not how I perform while winning.

“It’s a very fine line between them, but it’s a fine line that could make or break you,” he added.

Dubbed Zizo by his admirers, Almaayouf considered himself as more than just a boxer; he was a symbol of hope and inspiration for a nation rallying behind him.

He said: “I always say that I feel like a superhero when I do it. Gotham City has Batman, Metropolis has Superman, and Saudi has Zizo. When I fight in Saudi, so many people, boxing fans or not, they put their hopes and dreams, bragging rights, and everything on me. They feel like ‘if he could win his boxing fight, I could get my promotion and my job.’

“So many different audiences get inspired by something you are doing on a global stage. And that’s why I feel like a superhero.

“They need to have that confidence that if Zizo could do it, we could do it, and we could do it better,” Almaayouf added.

With his own podcast, “The Inner Guidebook,” and features in fashion magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Almaayouf has emerged as something of a Renaissance man with a wide variety of pursuits.

“It’s what I always try to follow in my life. Life peaks when you stop caring about what other people think you know. I feel like your purpose in life is your passion. These are all things that I am passionate about.

“First you become the boxer, then you become the athlete, then you become the figure. Everyone wants to reach the point of the figure, but very few make it to there.

“How you reach the point of that figure is to break into audiences that have nothing to do with your sport and your original field,” he said.

Almaayouf noted that many people had come across his name outside of boxing, from his fashion work, for example.

“It’s important to change the perceptions and the conceptions that people have on Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian people or the Arab people in general.

“Yes, we do speak English. Yes, we do have that enthusiasm, the charisma. Yes, we can fight. All that stuff is very important. And the only way to do that is to touch as many audiences as possible,” he added.

Despite a whirlwind start to 2024, Almaayouf has set his sights on a singular goal — winning inside the ring.

He said: “I want to be as active as possible, but to be as smartly active as possible. It’s not about getting the most amount of fights that I can get. It’s about getting the right fights at the right time and the right number of fights at the right time, depending on the year.

“If I’m not fighting, I’m a big believer of out of sight, out of mind.

“I always want to grow my brand, keep showing the athletes and the fighters coming up, that blueprint of how to just do it.

“To be a figure more than just the athlete and the boxer. To be around the podcasting, the fashion scene, and whatever passion I could touch lives with. That’s what I want to do.

“But eventually, at the end of the day, I am the boxer. I am the professional boxer for Saudi Arabia right now,” he added.

As Almaayouf continued to chase titles in the ring, he also wanted to pave the way for future generations of Saudi boxers to dream bigger.

He said: “I want to represent Saudi on all the big cards; represent Vision 2030, represent The Quality of Life Program, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of course.

“The trust and the empowerment that they have given me to carry that torch is just a big privilege and it comes with as much pressure, but it’s privilege first, then pressure, you know.

“Of course, it’s my dream to be the first world champion for Saudi; the first unified, undisputed, the first multi-weight.

“But what’s more important is to be the first of many. That’s why I say that this story is a larger-than-life story.

“I need to keep being that flag-bearer for Saudi Arabia until I get to that world title, God willing,” Almaayouf added.


Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish
Updated 19 April 2024
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Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish
  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win

BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.

The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after the Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, and Dejene Hailu from Ethiopia, seemed to deliberately allow him to win.

Footage of the conclusion to the race went viral.

“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said on Friday.

It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”

The four runners had stuck together throughout the course of just over 13 miles (21 kilometers) around the streets of the Chinese capital.

But He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.

All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Mnangat had told the BBC that the African trio were pacemakers, although their bibs did not say that.

The race investigation said that Mnangat, Keter and Hailu had not been properly registered as pacemakers for He, so their actions on the finish line breached competition rules.

The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Sunday’s incident received significant attention on Chinese social media site Weibo, with some users criticizing what they saw as an “embarrassing” result.

“This will certainly be the most embarrassing championship in He Jie’s career,” one wrote.

“With such a major organizer and such a well-known event, this really pushes sportsmanship to the ground in shame,” the post said.

Long-distance and marathon running has boomed in recent years among China’s middle class, but there have been numerous instances of cheating and poor organization.

In 2018, at a half marathon in the southern city of Shenzhen, 258 runners were found to have cheated, including many who took shortcuts.

Traffic cameras caught them darting through trees to join a different part of the race.

In 2019, a woman was filmed riding a green rental bike in the Xuzhou International Marathon in eastern China.

She was ordered by race officials to dismount the bike, only to get back on again afterwards.


Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’
Updated 19 April 2024
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Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’
  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.
India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka.
They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup
Updated 19 April 2024
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Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup
  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68
Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68
  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals
Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.