Muslim women were once forbidden from sport. A new generation now chases Olympic glory

Muslim women were once forbidden from sport. A new generation now chases Olympic glory
Zahra Lari practices at the Zayed Sports City Ice Rink in Abu Dhabi. (Washington Post photo/ Nikki Kahn)
Updated 12 July 2016

Muslim women were once forbidden from sport. A new generation now chases Olympic glory

Muslim women were once forbidden from sport. A new generation now chases Olympic glory

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: In a coffeehouse with the world's tallest building preening from two miles out the front window, here sits another groundbreaker: a 26-year-old, female, Emirati, Arab, Muslim, competitive weightlifter with a vitality in her tone, a hijab on her head and a herniated disk hollering from her lower back.
Not so long ago, 19-year-old Amna Al Haddad never would have guessed she would reach the spring of 2016 speaking in enthusiastic paragraphs about her unforeseen odyssey. She never would have envisioned herself just off her national team's attempt to qualify for next month's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She certainly wouldn't have imagined herself as part of a concept gaining familiarity in the Middle East in the 2010s, that of the female athlete.
"I'm seeing it unfold, basically," she said, and 20 athletes from seven nationalities, plus those who raised them or coach them or know them, agreed in recent interviews. They said there's less loneliness in being a female athlete in the region, even as they acknowledge that women still face significant impediments toward achieving Olympic-level excellence - entrenched cultural norms about the role of women foremost among them.
In London four years ago, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei became the last three countries to send female athletes to the Olympics. Sixteen Muslim countries from the Middle East sent a total of 158 women to the London Games, according to nation-by-nation figures compiled by the British Broadcasting Corp., with Egypt sending its largest continent of female competitors - 37 - since it began participating in the Olympics in 1912.
Just outside the Middle East, Algeria sent 21 women, including a volleyball team; Morocco sent 18;and Tunisia's Habiba Ghribi, with a silver medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, became that country's first female medalist.
The Summer Olympics that open in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5 could see an increase in those totals. It would be a remarkable development for a region in which the idea of women competing in sports was discouraged, if not forbidden, less than a generation ago.
"It is at the birth of something," said Fatima Adwan, a spokesman for the six-year-old Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy in Abu Dhabi, a government-backed organization aiming to increase female participation in sports, including its organization of weekly workouts routinely attended by 1,300 women.
"We don't want to get rid of anything," Adwan said. "The culture is what it is, and it's a beautiful culture as it stands. We want to say that you don't need to go against your culture to participate in sports."

Invariably, the region's female athletes seem to have the furnace-like insides of pioneers, as if charisma might stem from endorphins. Even when shorter than average, like Al Haddad at 5 feet 2, they might talk in compelling barrages as she does, once ending a long answer with, "I don't know what I'm saying now. Ask me a question." They range from the ambitious to the recreational, and they often have support from governments. Here and there, they've renovated thinking, ignored critics in the dungeons of social media and transformed households.
"Amna has made all of us in the house love sport," said Amira Budebs, mother of six, with Amna the second. By now, their spacious house contains the gym Al Haddad carved out of a storage room, a training area she calls "raw and "rough" and "dusty," with a squat rack against the wall and a silver barbell with stacked weight plates. It's among the places where she revs herself up by listening to metal such as the American bands Papa Roach, As I Lay Dying and Disturbed.
Nowadays, a conversation around the house might feature her proud father, Salman Al Haddad, a retired oil and gas executive who keeps a gardening company, saying, "You were in the newspaper the other day," and Amna saying, "Really, which one?" Her mother, hailing from a generation in which young women didn't consider going to gyms, now goes thrice weekly. She smiles and says something once inconceivable: "I love Zumba dancing."
Somehow, her daughter has waged a path that has led from the storage room to Seoul and Akron, Ohio, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
At a CrossFit event in Seoul in 2012, Al Haddad, as the only athlete covered in a headscarf, had the transformational experience of a camera crew following her, of strangers encouraging and congratulating her.
In Akron, mostly in 2015 after she had sharpened her focus to weightlifting, she did something rare for Middle Eastern single adults: She lived in her own apartment, learned to cook, do laundry, pay the wifi bill. She worked with a trainer she had met in Columbus, where she competed three times in the Arnold Sports Festival, and he painstakingly deconstructed and then reconstructed a technique that needed help because of her late start in the sport.
She had come to joke that, in Akron, the only two Nike-sponsored athletes she could think of were herself and, as she charmingly misstated, "James LeBron."
In Tashkent, in April 2016, she competed in the Asian Weightlifting Championships, marveled at the Chinese team nearby, marveled further that the number of covered athletes had increased, from the Pakistani pioneer Kulsoom Abdullah, to the friendly Iraqi team, to one Thai athlete. She competed with her United Arab Emirates team - seven women, three men, some promising female teenagers - that came within a puny two points of Olympic qualification, then awaited the drug-testing results of the teams up ahead.
Near the end of the 10 days she had an epitome of an experience at the sports complex, on a stairwell. There, she happened across one of her 6,200-odd Instagram followers, Mohammed Simsim, the president of the Saudi Arabian Weightlifting Federation. "And he said to me, 'Amna, you are doing a great job. You're very well-known for your manners. Maybe, you know, I would like to have, one day, a Saudi female weightlifting team. And you could come in and teach.' "
All along, all over the place, she has seen hints of sports' social effects. Having competed for three years running (2013-15) in Columbus, she said, "In the States it's, 'Oh, she's covered, but she's doing sports. So they're not as oppressed as we think they are.' " She got thank-yous from a Kuwaiti CrossFit athlete who saw fit to compete covered, from a woman in Portland, Oregon, who decided to keep going to the gym even though everybody stared, even from Saudi husbands whose wives had joined them in sports.
She has met weightlifting bright lights such as Pyrros Dimas and Valerios Leonidis. She appeared, with seven other women from various nations, in the January 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan - or, as she puts it cheerily, "Cosmo U.S.A.!" (She meant it wasn't the foreign editions.) She says, "I am an athlete who is sponsored by Nike from the U.A.E. That's huge. That is something that I'm very proud of."
It has been some seven-year path for an erstwhile 19-year-old university student on anti-depressants, a detail Al Haddad volunteers counter-culturally. ("I don't care. For me, it's about educating people.") It began when she took a walk in Safa Park in Dubai. She decided she would have to change herself to elude her misery. She became a "fitness junkie," as she put it. She quit the anti-depressants with a haste not generally prescribed. In her typically ardent research, she started reading that strength training cuts body fat. Once going, she adored the feeling of improved strength, eventually channeling full-on into weightlifting.
"Weightlifting is a very frustrating sport," she said. "And I feel I have grown a lot because of that frustration that I dealt with, with the sport. For me, what kept me going and not giving up on the sport, because I learned to become patient. I'm far from patient. I'm an angry person normally. For some reason the sport really calmed me down. I have no idea how. Like one of the best gifts I've had, is when I approach the bar with such coldness."
It matters enough to her that she persisted after six months ago, when her doctor expressed worry that her back would shriek through her "second life," or post-competitive life. In early May, when the back wouldn't let her so much as organize her closet - her sister helped out - the doctor ordered six weeks off.
It would be her longest hiatus from exercise since her walk in Safa Park.
This is some way from when she first told her mother of plans so alien that they never would have even glanced across a mother's mind.
"Never, ever," Budebs said. "Never, ever, ever, ever. No, this is a surprise in my life. Something unusual. And you know our culture, people see it and it's very strange. But with her ambition, her will power, she did it." She joked, "Maybe I am too much patience." She said, "It was something strange for me, and in my heart, I wanted her to change her mind. But she is the one who let others believe in what she is doing."

That kind of parental realization has dotted the region.
Just 75 miles down the wild and gleaming highway in Abu Dhabi, an 11-year-old girl in the middle of the last decade saw the film "Ice Princess," whereupon she hurried out to buy skates, whereupon she accidentally bought hockey skates and headed to Abu Dhabi's ice rink inside a sports complex. She quickly became a mainstay, until she reached mid-teens, when Zahra Lari's father, Fadhel, echoed a sentiment held around the region: that sports are not serious business, and that there comes a time to home in, especially on school.
Lari's mother, Roquiya Cochran, recalls her husband saying to Zahra, " 'It's time you started to back away from it. You've done it. You've enjoyed it. Okay, there's other things in life, and move on.' "
He did take the family to Dubai for a skating event in which Zahra would have competed had she continued, and where she could cheer for her still-skating friends. "And it just honestly, it broke his heart," Cochran said, "because she was cheering and she was happy for everyone else, but you know, you could see that she felt sad for herself. You could see it. . . . And yeah, it just broke his heart and he said, 'Okay, I give up. You can continue.' "
Zahra, by now 21, the only daughter amid two supportive brothers, tacked on even more respect for a father she clearly adores. "He was like, 'You know what? Forget about what colleagues say at work,' " she said. " 'Forget about whoever tells him anything.' And he was like, 'I know it's something that you love. You're not doing anything wrong. Then why not? Just go and work hard.' Because my Dad, at work, he's got people telling him, 'Why do you allow your daughter doing this?' But I mean, he just ignores it. He's like, 'It doesn't matter what they say. I'm your father. I want the best more than anyone. And if I knew this was something wrong, I wouldn't let you do it.' "
So, in their fine house in a residential area just outside Abu Dhabi, a 21-year-old university student sets her alarm each day for 4 a.m., pushes the snooze button several times, mulls sleeping in, thinks of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, rises at 4:30 and drives to the ice rink.
Even for parents who never wavered in finding sports healthy, revelations have come. Zaid Al Bitar and Rania Dalloul, the parents of Sameera Al Bitar, the 26-year-old triathlete who swam for Bahrain in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, already staunchly advised Sameera to ignore such troubles as a local newspaper columnist who objected to her competing in a swimsuit. Yet along the way, an even deeper feeling materialized. "What made us also give her the support, was herself, how much obedience [to her training], how much persistence," Zaid Al Bitar said by telephone from Cairo, where he and Dalloul reside nowadays.
He said, "That was really something to us we could not ignore."
And, he said, "She inspired us more than we inspired her."
At the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championships in April, as men and women competed on adjacent mats, the male Lebanese-Syrian coach and teacher Khalid Walid Merii, 29, spoke of the fresh trickle of Middle Eastern women participating and said, "I think the more the generations keep going, it will keep changing more and more."
In a further wrinkle hatched this decade, 15 universities now hold intercollegiate competitions for about 550 men and about 450 women, said Peter Dicce, the assistant dean of students and director of athletics at New York University Abu Dhabi. Ninety percent of the women are local, he said. For soccer, they play in shorts at venues at which all the people - players, coaches, referees, assistants, spectators - are women. The women often find a possibility long unseen in the region: that sports can complement, rather than imperil, their academics.

Of course, like other members of this flowering sisterhood, Al Haddad does note the obstacles. They far exceed the slight complications of when a headscarf slips during weightlifting.
She feels disconnected from peers who tend to lack her seriousness. In cultures where just about everyone yearns to get married, she surmises it will take "a very secure man" to marry her, even as she hopes for just such. She feels disconnected from peers who tend to lack such drive. "So as I get closer to 30, I'm my own woman," she said. "Nobody can tell me what I can and cannot do." She paused. "I mean, no one ever tells me what I can and cannot do anyway."
She laughed.
Starting late, in a generation that tended to start late, brought "a lot of challenges" and "a lot of struggles," Al Haddad said. "The way my body reacted is not the way I wanted it to." Technique suffered, becoming "a major setback for me, because the older you get in your sport, the harder it is to teach yourself the motor skills. And honestly just to see how I used to lift a few years ago and how I lift now, to me that's an achievement on its own."
As always, there's the issue of what to do about critics, who seldom pop up face-to-face but do tend to lurk behind keyboards.
"It is very easy to be criticized when you are a covered woman and you are doing sports," she said. "It is not something that is common. It is not something that is looked positively upon for some. So obviously I get a lot of negative comments. Personally I never pay attention to the comments, positive or negative, to be honest, because I know who I am and what I set out to do. Those who support me, I appreciate them, but those who don't, they don't even, like, exist, you know?"
If, for others, such critics are within families, that can prove prohibitive. "I know there are women who may love sports but may not want to ever pursue it further because they are afraid of what their family will say," she said. "Because it is 'shameful for a woman to do this and that,' blah-blah-blah."
With that reality in mind, she said, "Amna is more than a clean-and-jerk, a snatch and a total [points score]. I tend to get a lot of questions, and one of the first questions I get from people is, 'How much do you lift?' My answer is, 'I lift a nation.' "
Come late June 2016, the United Arab Emirates team would learn it had qualified for the Olympics because three teams ahead of it had failed doping tests. Based on recent results, the federation chose Aisha Al Balushi, 24, to represent the team in Rio de Janeiro. "I'm just really, really happy I was part of this, and I could say that I actually did it," Al Haddad said.
Earlier, in May, another woman who ventured from norms a generation ago, when she went away to university in Jordan, sat on the last seat of the left side of a front row of an auditorium at New York University Abu Dhabi.
There, Amira Budebs would hear a daughter she never imagined speak to a 100-strong assembly of students, professors, administrators. She had never seen Amna speak in person. She felt nervous just going, then sat wordlessly in front in her traditional black abaya. Outside, the merciless summer heat was well on its way, but indoors in the air conditioning, listeners heard of a different intensity.
For an hour, Al Haddad showed some of her Nike videos, showed quotations on the screen and spoke encouragements such as: "This is why I'm here today, because I did not try to get ahead of anyone, but ahead of myself." She told the listeners, "I used to get so angry. And now I'm super-chill."
When the loquacious speaker finished speaking, her mother's mind had been on some journey. "I had so many thoughts," she said, eyes wide, and soon she added, "Today when I am listening, I'm listening not to my daughter. I am listening to my teacher."

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
Updated 25 min 29 sec ago

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
  • United now sit 12 points behind leaders Manchester City as their title hopes fade

LONDON: Manchester United were left frustrated by a VAR penalty controversy in their 0-0 draw at Chelsea, while the revitalised Gareth Bale struck twice in Tottenham’s 4-0 rout of Burnley on Sunday.

Second-placed United had hoped to close the gap on Manchester City with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

But instead they now sit 12 points behind the Premier League leaders as their title hopes fade following a run of one win from four games.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard, but the stalemate was a blow to his team’s top-four challenge.

The fifth-placed Blues are one point behind fourth-placed West Ham and four ahead of sixth-placed Liverpool, who visit Sheffield United in Sunday’s late game.

Neither side could claim they deserved to win in a game of few clear-cut chances.

The biggest talking point came in the first half when United’s appeal for a penalty was rejected by referee Stuart Attwell after he consulted the pitchside monitor when Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle in a challenge with Mason Greenwood.

After five defeats in their previous six league games, Tottenham eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a significant contribution from Bale, who made just his third league start of the season.

The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.

Bale, who had clashed with Tottenham boss Mourinho over his fitness earlier in February, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.

In the 15th minute, Bale’s superb long pass picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.

Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish after Sergio Reguilon’s cross was deflected into the Brazilian’s path by Tarkowski in the 31st minute.

Bale, in his second spell with Tottenham after leaving for Madrid in 2013, scored again with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.

Tottenham are up to eighth, six points behind the top four with a game in hand.

“Sometimes you (the media) like to say things that are not really true but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said.

“There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”

Arsenal delivered a hammer blow to Leicester’s faint hopes of winning the title with an impressive 3-1 win.

Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind to Youri Tielemans’ early goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games and their first success at a team in the Premier League’s top three since 2015.

Leicester remain in third place and trail City by 13 points with 12 games remaining.

After Thursday’s shock Europa League exit against Slavia Prague, it was a week to forget for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal stuck in mid-table, Arteta has prioritised winning the Europa League as his side’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Having picked his best team for the come-from-behind win against Benfica in the last 32 second leg on Thursday, Arteta left Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the bench after the long trip back from the neutral venue in Greece.

After the gamble paid off, Arteta said: “Coming into this game I was concerned. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league to play once you go behind against them.

“The reaction was terrific, the team looked really mature.”

Third-bottom Fulham are three points from safety after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
Updated 30 min 23 sec ago

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
  • Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category

ROVANIEMI, Finland: Ott Tanak held off Finnish home hope Kalle Rovanpera on Sunday to win the inaugural Arctic Rally.

The Estonian, world rally champion in 2019 when with the Finland-based Toyota team, emerged master of the demanding frozen forest circuit behind the wheel of his Hyundai.

“First, when you come to a new event it’s always a bit unexpected,” he told

“This weekend, we came to the home country of Toyota and we expected them to be very strong.

“The pressure was there and we knew it was going to be very complicated to take the fight. In the end we did a very good weekend — nothing too much, only one mistake yesterday (Saturday).”

Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category, added: “It’s an amazing place — definitely one of the best places to have a winter rally, especially yesterday, it was so demanding.

“I think to come back here a second time would be much more enjoyable, especially when you know where you are going!”

The 33-year-old’s Belgian teammate Thierry Neuville had to settle for third after his battle with Rovanpera, the 20-year-old who takes the early lead in the championship standings.

Tanak’s winning margin after Sunday’s two closing stages, was 17.5 seconds, with Neuville 2.5sec behind Rovanpera, the winner of the Power Stage and for whom this was the best result of his young career.

“It was a superb weekend for me and Jonne (Halttunen, his co-driver), we did all that we could and we’re happy to take second,” said the Finn, claiming his second podium place after Sweden in 2020.

He moved on to 39 points in the championship, four clear of Neuville.

A further four points behind sits France’s reigning champion Sebastien Ogier who trailed in over 10 minutes adrift after driving into a snowbank on the final turn on Saturday.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, climbed back into their Toyota and finished the stage but with their hopes of victory dashed.

Tanak lies fifth in the fledgling rankings, on 27 points, all earned here after retiring with a double puncture from the opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.

This second leg of the championship was held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The WRC circus next sets up camp in Croatia at the end of April.

Campos tied for lead at home in Puerto Rico Open

Campos tied for lead at home in Puerto Rico Open
Updated 37 min 37 sec ago

Campos tied for lead at home in Puerto Rico Open

Campos tied for lead at home in Puerto Rico Open
  • Play was delayed three times for about an hour total in the afternoon because of the short, heavy downpours

RIO GRANDE, PUERTO RICO: Local favorite Rafael Campos took a share of the lead Saturday in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open, waiting out a series of rain delays to shoot a 5-under 67 at windy Grand Reserve.

The 32-year-old from San Juan followed a birdie on the par-4 17th with a bogey on the par-5 18th to drop into a tie for the lead with Grayson Murray at 14-under 202.

“I know there’s a lot of things that can basically change my life tomorrow,” Campos said. “But truth is, I’m just really happy. I have been playing good golf the last two weeks, and I really want to keep that mindset of the work I have been putting in the last four months, I’m starting to see good results.

“I think I will just focus on that, focus on playing the golf course the way I know how to play it, be aggressive when I have to be aggressive, and be conservative when I obviously don’t feel comfortable. So, yeah, I really don’t want to think about tomorrow. I just want to go out and hopefully play some good golf.”

Murray bogeyed 17 and birdied 18 in a 65. Cameron Percy (67) and Branden Grace (68) were a stroke back.

Play was delayed three times for about an hour total in the afternoon because of the short, heavy downpours. With expected heavy rain overnight and into the morning, the final round will feature threesomes off split tees.

Campos has two top-10 finishes in the event, tying for eighth in 2016 and tying for 10th in 2017. After missing the cuts in seven of eight events to start the PGA Tour season, he tied for seventh last week in Florida’s in a Korn Ferry Tour event. In 2019, he won the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic to become the first Puerto Rican in Korn Ferry Tour history.

The former Virginia Commonwealth player played the front nine in 3 under, with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-5 fifth. He also birdied the par-4 10th and 12th.

“I felt today I hit the ball very well, with the exception of the last couple of holes,” Campos said. “But I’m really happy with where I’m standing right now, and I really think can’t be in a better position basically for tomorrow. Hopefully, just kind of keep doing the same thing we’re doing. I really feel comfortable with my swing.”

He won’t get to play in front of many of his fans Sunday because of coronavirus restrictions.

“It feels very weird only seeing them for like three holes out of 18 holes,” Campos said. “So I got my mom, I got my wife, I got family supporting me. So that’s all I really need right now. And, obviously, I feel the great positive energy the fans actually give me, either text messages or out here on the course.”

The tournament is being played opposite the World Golf Championship event in Florida. The winner will get into the PGA Championship in May but not the Masters in April.

Murray won the 2017 Barbasol Championship, also played opposite a WGC event, for the 27-year-old former Arizona State player’s lone tour title.

“It’s been a long time since I have been in a situation like this, but I’m not afraid of the moment,” Murray said. “And at the end of the day, you still got to play good golf, no matter — no matter who’s chasing you or who I’m chasing.”

He birdied five of the first nine holes.

“I had the putter rolling and just kind of kept it rolling throughout the round,” Murray said. “We had to stop and start. We were a little unfortunate, but they were quick. And the PGA Tour did a good job of kind of keeping us out there and not bringing us in each time.”

Second-round leader Brandon Wu (71) was 12 under with Andrew Putnam (67) and Nelson Ledesma (68).

“Had to scramble a little bit harder today,” Wu said. “I think it was playing tougher, the start and the stop, the rain, crazy conditions.”

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points
Updated 28 February 2021

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points
  • Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 27 games and their run of 20 successive victories in all competitions is a record for an English top-flight side

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola rates Manchester City’s 20-game winning run as one of the greatest achievements of his glittering career.

City moved 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 27 games and their run of 20 successive victories in all competitions is a record for an English top-flight side.

The Spaniard has won 29 trophies as a manager with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, including consecutive Premier League titles in 2018 and 2019.

But Guardiola believes City’s remarkable winning streak this season, amid a pandemic and despite injuries to Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, is up there with his finest moments.

“It is so difficult. Twenty in this period, in this era, with this situation around the world. To be able to do 20 is maybe one of the greatest achievements we have done together in our careers,” Guardiola said.

“That doesn’t mean we will win titles but we have not had one week’s rest in three months. A game every three days, with the Covid situation, injury situations — to make this winning run shows mental strength.”

City were not at their best against in-form West Ham, but Guardiola was delighted with the way they fought for the points.

“We didn’t paint something nice but there are many of these games during the season,” he said.

“It was obvious to every person who saw the game it was really tough. The opposition is incredible, well composed.

“So, a big compliment to West Ham. After 26 fixtures they were in the Champions League positions. They have everything.

“It was a really tough game but that is good for us for the coming games, to realize what is going to happen.”

Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
Updated 28 February 2021

Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
  • Second Formula E night race ends prematurely after crash involving Maximilian Gunther and Alex Lynn

RIYADH: Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag, with the British driver leading Robin Frijns of Envision Virgin Racing and Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah behind him.

In the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it was Diriyah’s second race under the floodlights to conclude the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Formula E season.

With 25 points Bird is now four points behind Friday’s winner, Nyck de Vries of Mercedes-Benz EQ. Jaguar Racing also lead the Team Championship, seven points ahead of Mercedes.

“I was a bit emotional in the car,” Bird, who has now won races in every one of Formula E’s seven seasons, said.



“Big move, big step for me leaving what was my family at Envision, they were great to me for six years, joining a new team, but they welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, but I’ve come to a fantastic team, great bunch of guys. They’re already my family, I’m just so happy that I could give them a result today.”

It was Bird’s first win with Jaguar Racing and 10th in Formula E, and he revealed that the race was not as simple as it may have seemed. 

“I have to say that Robin was so respectful, a pleasure to race against really,” he said. “Just what you’re expect from a man of his caliber. And it was great fun.”

The runner-up was disappointed that some tactical decisions did not work out, but was still pleased with the overall outcome.

“We had a great battle going on, but unfortunately me taking attack mode just before the full course yellow didn’t help at the end,” Frijns said. “It’s the kind of gamble you take in racing, but (finishing) eventually on the podium in P2 after such a difficult day yesterday, I’d definitely sign up for that.”

The day started in dramatic fashion when the previous day’s runner-up, Edoardo Mortara of RokiT Venturi Racing, was involved in a serious accident after his throttle locked and he lost the use of his brakes. After crashing into a barrier he was taken to hospital where he underwent scans.

Thankfully, the Swiss driver was well enough to return to the Diriyah circuit, but in the end had to sit the race out.

“I’m grateful it was not more serious,” Mortara said.

“It was not a great feeling, it’s a feeling that I’d like to forget,” he added. “I felt a little bit like a passenger, there was nothing I could do, no brakes any more and I just went into the wall. I thought that was pretty much the end of for me. Not a nice feeling.”

Frijns, having started 17th from the grid on day one, was in pole position with Sergio Sette Camara (Dragon/Penske Autosport) in second. Bird, who had collided with Alex Lynn on Friday, and Tom Blomqvist of NIO 333 Formula E Team were third and fourth in row two.

For the viewers, it provided extra excitement, with most of the favorites, and leading finishers from the first race relegated to the back of the grid.

Sette Camara’s poor start allowed Bird to overtake on the first turn, and as the race’s 45 minutes (plus one lap) ticked down the front two started to pull away from the chasing pack.

By lap eight Bird was only 0.500 sec behind Frijns, with a gap of over two seconds behind the Briton. Within two laps, Bird was leading, but by activating his attack mode, Frijns regained the lead on lap 14.

Halfway through the race Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah, moved into third place with eyes on challenging the front two, but a Full Course Yellow (FCY), rather than a safety car, meant that he could not make up the four-second difference between him and Bird.

A battle was developing in third and fourth when reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa almost collided with team-mate Vergne, allowing Frijns and Bird — themselves exchanging the lead several times — to maintain their lead with 15 minutes left.

But with 28 laps gone and over eight minutes left, the first safety car of the day came out after Maximilian Gunther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) crashed into Alex Lynn, and in doing so wiped away the gaps. 

There would be no restart and the race was ended with Bird in the lead, and Frijns, Vergne and da Costa behind him.

After the previous day’s drama, it was an underwhelming end to the opening weekend of the Formula E season.

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