Emily Hughes, the Cinderella entrant from the US in the recently-concluded Winter Olympics, is a 17-year-old who has gained the respect of her peers for not crumbling under pressure. Reema Saffarini and Sara Saleh profile six youngsters from the UAE who pursue their sporting passions and have learnt positive lessons

Figure Skating
Emily Hughes

Claim to fame
The spotlight has been on Emily Hughes ever since she replaced top figure skater Michelle Kwan, who pulled out due to an injury, at last month's 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

Emily got her lucky break when she was named first alternate to the US Olympic team, finding out she was to replace Kwan only days before the Olympics took place.

On such short notice and as the first ever alternate to compete in the Olympics, Emily took the competition by storm as she managed to land an impressive seventh.

A rising star
Born fifth out of six children to American parents, on January 26, 1989, Emily Hughes certainly doesn't lead the normal life that most 11th graders her age do.

Emily began skating at the age of three and hasn't stopped since.

2005 was a big year for this 17-year-old as she won a bronze medal in the World Junior Championships, competing against skating greats such as Sasha Cohen, who came in first place. And as if everyday high school traumas weren't enough, Emily also made her debut at the Grand Prix.

In the same year, Emily placed fifth in both the Skate America and the Cup of Russia events.

Sister Sarah
Emily's older sister is none other than Sarah Hughes, who won the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics for the same sport. This definitely must have increased the pressure on Emily!

Emily is well-known for her solid groundwork as she has good surface coverage. Some of her strengths include solid and clean jumping techniques.

Emily has a history of weak loops as she has failed to perfect this on several occasions including the National Championships. Despite this, she is optimistic about the future and is determined to keep going until the Hughes family has two gold medals in their hallway cabinet!

Rabih Abou Diwan

  • Nationality: Lebanese
  • Major: Management and Finance
  • Institution: American University in Dubai

His Break: Ten years ago when basketball became a big thing in Lebanon and the championships started, I got motivated to start playing.

Now: I'm on the AUD varsity team and I play for the Lebanese community team in Abu Dhabi.

Trains: Two to three hours, four times a week.

Pro Competitions: I participated in several junior championships in Lebanon from 1998 to 2000.

Dealing with losses: You lose - hard luck! You get upset but then you go back and look at your mistakes. As a team you have to see what you did right and where you went wrong and work on it. Improve your weak points.

Grades: I'm on an athletics scholarship at AUD and I'm doing well - I'm averaging around a 2.8.

Future plans: One of my dreams is to go back and play in the league in Lebanon. Although I love basketball, I don't think it is enough for me and I want to get a job alongside it.

Last words: If you want to play basketball, watch it on TV. Then get used to teamwork and work on individual skills.

Tariq Abdul Razaq

  • Age: 19
  • Nationality: UAE
  • Major: Aviation engineering
  • Institution: Dubai Men's College

Beginning: I started playing when I was 10 years old. I used to play with my friends and family, not professionally. I also like to play volleyball and table tennis occasionally.

Now: I am part of the college's team. I've played in inter-collegiate matches and championships.

Big league: I tried playing professionally by joining Al Nasr and Al Wasl teams. I tried each for a week. I didn't make it. I was out of shape. However, it is too late for me now. To succeed professionally you should start training with real coaches early.

Grades: This is a problem. It is really hard to balance sports and studies.This was one of the reasons why I had to quit trying for the professional teams. You rarely see good footballers with good degrees.

Best moment: I don't remember as a footballer, but I was able to go to a football match between the UAE and Australia in 2003 and watch it live in the stadium.

Football: This sport is all about teamwork.

Future: I want to become an aviation engineer, but I will still play football as a hobby.

Last words: There are so many football talents in the country. All that we need is more discipline and training.

Running is my life!

Tha'en Abdullah Mohammad

  • Age: 22
  • Nationality: UAE
  • Major: Political science
  • Institution: UAE University

Beginning: I started to take part in running races at 15. My coach at the school told me to try it and since then I have been doing it. I run in 1,500 and 5,000 metre races. I also take part in six- and eight-kilometre competitions.

Now: I play for the university. I train two hours daily.

Big league: It would be great to play professionally. But first I need to get a university degree. This is the most important thing.

Grades: Because running is a hobby, I am capable of balancing my studies and doing sports.

Best moment: When I was in grade 12 and I came in third in a six-kilometre UAE national race.

Future: Complete my studies, go for my master's degree and find a job. I will still run though as hobby.

Last words: Obesity is a big issue nowadays. If only these people would just walk for an hour, that would help them stay in shape.

Want to play forever!

Ammar Ba

  • Age: 26
  • Nationality: Mauritania
  • Major: Business - senior
  • Institution: University of Sharjah

Beginnings: First sport I played was football. I was a kid. I can't remember when exactly. Then I got interested in basketball at 13.

Now: I am the captain of the Sharjah University basketball team. I practise throughout the week for two to three hours a day. I've won in street-ball and got trophies for second and third place in university matches.

Big league: A career is out of the question now. I am not a UAE national so there is no chance for me to play here. Also, to make it to Europe I have to play in professional teams so people can see me and [I can] get picked.

Grades: I started really well, then my school performance started going down. I believe, however, that in the end it is up to the person to create a balance. I've known students who graduated with 3.6 GPA and still played sports. People always look for excuses. Practice takes two hours only.

Best moment: It was in 2003. We played against the American University of Sharjah. I was injured, but I kept playing. We did not win first place, but what mattered to me most was that I was able to play despite my injury.

Hanna Zaarour

  • Nationality: Lebanese
  • Major: Visual Communication with Advertising
  • Institution: American University in Dubai

Her Break: I started out swimming and I swam for Speedo. My athletic scholarship at AUD was initially for swimming but we couldn't set up a swim team so I turned to basketball.

I had played before in Lebanon on a team and I have a really good coach who still trains me now. I was able to improve my game very quickly in the past five years and I got to play for the Dubai national team

Now: I am the captain of AUD's basketball team and I also play for a Lebanese club here.

Trains: I practice three times a week including weekends but excluding the times I play for fun.

Favourite sports moment: I was named queen of the tournament in Turkey and I really enjoyed being awarded the outstanding athletics female award at the American University in Dubai when I was only in second year.

Grades: I am on an athletic scholarship and I try to maintain good grades and an overall fairly high GPA.

Future Plans: After graduation next year I intend to do my masters in the USA. If I get the chance to play basketball there I would definitely love to. I would also follow any chance I have to play for the Lebanese national teams.