Dubai: Powerful things come in small packages, to modify a truism. In this vein, Amna Al Haddad possesses a remarkable physical and mental strength that belies her diminutive stature and charming candour.
Hoisting barbells that weigh more than her body weight above her head with regular ease, the Dubai-born female weightlifter is one of the UAE’s most promising young athletes. And she believes she has a real chance of representing her country at the Olympic Games in Brazil come 2016.
“I want to be an Olympian and I want to represent the UAE on the biggest stage,” she told Gulf News.
After just six months of professional training, Al Haddad has earmarked Rio de Janeiro as her first major career goal. The 23-year-old would become the first ever Emirati female to represent her country at an Olympics while wearing the traditional hijab to compete.
To qualify for the female 53kg Olympic category (Al Haddad weighs 51.5kg), the Emirati athlete must be able to execute a combined total lift of 140kg for the two movements Olympic weightlifting status quo requires: the ‘snatch’ and ‘the clean and jerk’. Her current personal best combo lift is just less than 90kg.
“Regarding the Olympics, three years is a long time. It’s a lot of training and a lot of preparation. And I’m already half way to the weights I need to hit, having only done this seriously for [just over] six months,” she says.
The UAE star has been breaking ground by representing her country around the world in the last few months at various International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) events.
In March, Al Haddad became the first female Emirati to fly the green, white, red and black UAE flag in the United States of America by competing at the IWF Arnold Weighlifting Championships in Colombus, Ohio. It was her first official international competition, and she registered her first classified total of 82kg.
More recently, Al Haddad travelled to Austria to compete in the IWF 10th International ASVÖ–NÖ Women´s Weightlifting Grand Prix, where she displayed a marked improvement from her last competitive outing. She racked up a combined total of 86kg from her six lifts. A 33rd place finish in a field of 46 athletes was a satisfying result and a significant sign that she is moving in the right direction.
While her personal bests in training are better than the numbers she’s scoring in her nascent international career, it’s not something that concerns Al Haddad. The early competitions are a chance to hone her skill-set on combative stages and gain invaluable experience, she says.
“At this stage I’m not in the position to win medals yet. It takes years and years of practice before you peak. The most important part about the competitions wasn’t about beating anyone. It was about beating me and getting my first official totals.
“One important thing I learned from the US was that you should always open with a weight you know you can do. So you counteract any nervousness, because you know the pressure’s off when you get your first total,” she says.
Having picked up the sport quite late — at the age of 17 — compared to seasoned weightlifters who have had the technical movements rigorously ingrained in their physical make-up from a young, malleable age, Al Haddad says she needs to work hard on developing a reliable, comfortable technique to suit her.
“Right now, my problem is a technical one. I need to develop that smooth movement under the bar and get as comfortable as possible for the snatch.
“A lot of weightlifters who start young, you can teach and mould them: I started late. So now I’m getting the correct technique.
“Sometimes I completely strip the bar down and work with no weights on it at all. But all of that is part and parcel of my training. You have to understand that sometimes you have to take a few steps back to take steps forward in the future,” Al Haddad says.
One particular aspect of the American experience that stood out for Al Haddad was the warm reception she received from the organisers and professional athletes at the Arnold Championships, which she says, the UAE’s sporting infrastructure could learn from.
“You can see how much they appreciate athleticism and how high-calibre some of the athletes are. I had an Olympian, Holley Mangold, supervise me.
“They really took care of me as an athlete, which is something that isn’t really done here. For example, I’m struggling to find sponsorship,” she added.
Currently, Al Haddad’s competitions are sponsored by Abu Dhabi businessman Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, and FAST Athletic training, a Dubai-based strength and conditioning performance centre for amateur and professional athletes, supplements her overall development as an athlete.
If the young Emirati receives the backing she’s looking for, Rio could well be her oyster.