You would be forgiven for thinking that the Shaikha Hind Al Maktoum Sports Hall was a children's play area and not a gymnasium where over 150 little ones had gathered for an international competition. They were milling around, in colourful attire, almost desperate to get on the floor, the vault, the balance beam and the bars to finish off their routines.
Then there were others, a tad nervous, going through their last-minute preparations. But, they were all there, eager to impress their coaches and parents, who had gathered in numbers, their handycams capturing every moment of their little ones in action.
They had come from all over the Gulf. There was a sizeable squad from the rather aptly named Chaoss Academy in Bahrain – 44 in all, and the Doha Gymnastics Academy which brought eight hand-picked girls. And then there were The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Olympic Gymnastics Club, Excel Sports, Dubai and Repton School, Dubai, to add to the fun.
The music was catchy as the gymnasts took to the floor, executing their moves to the best of their abilities and the judges were understandably generous with their marks, hardly anyone getting below 9.30. There was a little Emirati girl who stood out among her mates at Excel Sports. At just seven, Rowdah Al Ghandi has high hopes of going where none before her would have, of becoming a professional gymnast and her parents seemed to love the idea as well.
Then there were those at the other end of the age spectrum like 16-year-old Rachel Innes of Doha Gymnastics Academy, who happens to be a qualified coach in trampolining and British Gymnastics. And her aim?
"I want to become a full-time coach besides inventing a new move," she said.
Very impressive on the bars were the duo from the Chaoss Academy in Bahrain, Danielle Linton, 10, and Giselle Mayer, 11, who are reputed to be two of the best in their academy. And it showed. Danielle is half-Filipino, half English while Mayer has the reputation of being the hardest worker in the squad. "She trains five days a week and nearly four hours a day," said one of the coaches.
The performances were really good, but they could have been even better, at least on the floor, according to Melissa Ziarno, administrator at the The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Olympic Gymnastics Club which conducts its classes at the venue of this competition. "We had ordered for cushions from France to go underneath the carpets for the floor exercises. They arrived all right, but were damaged, having been stored in the container in a French port for three weeks due to a strike.
"It would have been much better if the children had the cushions to perform their acrobatics on," she said.
Nevertheless, what was seen from the children of several nationalities gave enough indication that gymnastics, as one of the fastest growing sports in the UAE and the Gulf states, is here to stay.
The gymnastics clubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Doha have put their heads together to organise inter-GCC tournaments and very soon we could see the formation of a GCC Association that would run the sport in the region. "We are trying to form standards and have guidance on what is required to form an association. Apart from the clubs participating in this tournament, there are also others from Oman and Al Ain who are interested," said Melissa Ziarno, administrator at the The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Olympic Gymnastics Club.