Jakarta: UAE’s realistic chance of winning a medal at the 18th Asian Games starts on Thursday when Asian Champion Yousif Mirza hits the streets of Jakarta on his bike.
Mirza, who rides for UAE Team Emirates on the World Tour, will be taking part in the 150-kilometre road race.
The 29-year-old had a huge scare just days before the Asian sporting showpiece event when he crashed and injured his wrist during the BinckBank Tour, Belgium.
“I’m good to go and the injury was not at all serious. In very good shape and also had some good training session. Very much confident of doing well,” said Mirza, who will have Ahmad Al Mansouri, Mohammad Al Mansouri and Saif Al Kaabi for company.
Mirza has missed out on the podium twice before and will be looking to set that record straight. His loss in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014 was especially painful as he was in the lead throughout the race until he ran out of gas near the end to settle for fourth spot.
“I was in the breakaway group. I pressed a bit too hard and paid a heavy prize in the end,” said Mirza, who is expected to face a stiff challenge from the Kazakhstan and Hong Kong cyclists.
Meanwhile, UAE youngster Omar Al Fadhli is confident of repeating his gold medal-winning heroics of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in jiu-jitsu at the Asian Games.
“It’s no surprise because everyone has been preparing for the Asian Games for a long time,” said the 18-year-old, who will be competing in the 62kg weight on Saturday.
“The Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan was a trial for Jakarta. For me, I had a good idea of the competition but it is definitely going to be tougher in Jakarta,” said Al Fadhli also pointing out that the four gold, four silver and six bronze medals in Ashgabat is a testimony of their strength in the sport.
“We had a heady start in jiu-jitsu than some of the other Asian countries and that provided us an advantage, but others have caught up. Indeed it would be very interesting to see how much the sport has developed within this short period. Our preparation has been excellent. We spent a month in San Diego in the United States and continued our final preparation in Abu Dhabi before flying out to Jakarta.”
Al Fadhli started showing promise by winning silver at the Asian Beach Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Sri Lanka in 2016 when he was 16 years old.
The other UAE youngsters who can make a huge impact are Hamad Nawad, Humaid Al Kaabi and Khalid Iskander Al Baloushi.
“I have watched them progress through the ranks and waiting excitedly to see them in action in the Games,” said Yousuf Al Baloushi, team manager. “They are a new generation of fighters. They have mastered the modern art and technically are a lot different to the older fighters.
“They are young, but have been around for a long time in the international circuit and can handle any pressure. They are very exciting to watch.”