Abu Dhabi: The UAE Paralympic team received a rousing welcome at the Dubai International Airport after their landmark performance at the Rio Paralympics, on Monday.
UAE finished with a record seven medals, including two golds, four silvers and a bronze. The result also eclipsed their previous best performance of four medals set at the 2004 Athens Games.
The achievement was all the more significant with the women’s squad scripting a new chapter in history. Sara Al Senaani became the first female to win a medal at the major sporting event for UAE when she bagged bronze in the F33 class Shot Put with a throw of 5.06m.
If that accomplishment was overwhelming, the icing on the cake came with Noura Al Ketbi clinching silver with a throw of 4.70m in the Shot Put’s F32 Class on Sunday.
Sara attributed her success to the strong support she and her teammates received from the family and the women’s sports leadership in the country.
“My family stood by me all the way and here I’m with a medal. Their support gave me the courage to fight and accept challenges. If you have support, then we can break any barrier and move forward. The women sport’s leadership here has also played a huge role in our success,” said the 23-year-old adding, “The bronze medal has now added more responsibility on me and for all Emirati girls in order to leave a new imprint and to achieve new goals in women’s sports.”
In the men’s section, a clinical performance came from veteran powerlifter, Mohammad Khamis Khalaf, 42, who handed UAE gold by lifting 220kg in the men’s 88kg category and proving that age is just a number.
His effort was so inspiring that even His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, took to social media to congratulate Khalaf.
“I’m proud of Mohammad Khamis Khalaf for his gold medal victory at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. His gold medal win in weightlifting is a message to all our athletes that the only real disability is weak determination and willpower,” tweeted Shaikh Mohammad.
The second gold medallist for UAE Mohammad Al Hammadi surprised everybody by upsetting reigning champion Walid Ktila of Tunisia for gold in the men’s 800m T34.
Many had questioned Al Hammadi’s commitment in the run up to the Paralympics and the only way he could have silenced his detractors was by clinching a medal.
“People said at the beginning that I probably won’t win. I came from behind and I won. They kept saying ‘Mohammad is not training, not doing this, not doing that,’ and I won the gold medal,” said Al Hammadi.
However, Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani was the toast of this Paralympics Games for UAE. In the four shooting events Al Aryani participated in, he bagged three silvers.
Al Aryani lost the title he won in London by a mere 0.3 points to eventual champion Zhang Cuiping of China in the R6 – mixed 50m rifle prone SH1 but the other two silvers in his less favourite 10m air rifle and R7 men’s 50m rifle three positions SH1 were noteworthy and showed what a class act he is for the UAE.
Finally, this Paralympics has been a huge shot in the arm for UAE’s sporting aspirations and the nation has already chalked out a road map for Tokyo 2020.