Dubai: The UAE Olympic squad head to Tokyo 2020 with fervent hope and positivity in what will be their 10th consecutive appearance at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza.
The 18-member contingent, which is headed by Chef-de-Mission Ahmed Al Tayeb, includes five athletes - Hassan Al-Noubi (athletics – men’s 100m), Ivan Remarenco (judo – men’s 100kg), Victor Scvortov (judo – men’s 73kg), Youssef Al Matrushi (swimming – men’s 100m freestyle) and Saif Bin Futtais (shooting – men’s skeet).
The UAE’s representation in the July 23 - August 8 multi-discipline event might be short in numbers, but it is by no means lacking in quality and commitment.
Al Tayeb’s team are among the best talent that this sports-loving country has to offer in athletics, swimming, judo and shooting, and it will be no surprise to see them proudly displaying the UAE flag, and aspirations, for the world to see,
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“We are a small team but our hopes are big,” Al Tayeb told Gulf News. “We are not going to Tokyo to make up the numbers, we are going there to show the world what our sportsmen are capable of.
“Yes, like all the countries participating, we are filled with hope and expectation but there is no pressure on our athletes to succeed. They will give their best, that we are sure of, and we wish that we will gain a medal and reach the podium. We are here to compete at a high level.
“The team has settled down at the Olympic village and they are starting to get acclimatized and comfortable. So everything is going well and we can wait to swing into action,” Al Tayeb added.
Judo duo carry big medal hopes
Combat sports is one of the highlights of the Olympics and Victor Scvortov and Ivan Remarenco, who will represent the UAE in the men’s judo competition, are hungry as ever to win gold in their respective weight divisions.
Scvortov competes in the 73kg class while Remarenco, who will be participating in his third straight Games, is a strong medal prospect in the competitive 100kg category.
Both naturalised citizens of the UAE, Moldovans Scvortov and Remarenco, are reported to be in peak physical fitness and are ready for the challenges that lie ahead on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Remarenco represented the UAE at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio while Abu Dhabi Grand Prix hero Scvortov makes his Olympic debut bristling with confidence.
We are not going to Tokyo to make up the numbers, we are going there to show the world what our sportsmen are capable of
“Both athletes have been preparing for a long time and are high in confidence heading to Tokyo,” Naser Al Tamimi, General Secretary of the UAE Judo Federation, said in an exclusive interview.
“The preparations began after Rio with the first goal being to qualify for Tokyo. That having been achieved they are hungry to wins medals for their adopted country.
“It is a big achievement to qualify for the Games and to have two strong contenders represent the UAE. The Olympics are the world’s biggest sporting stage so we are extremely excited and hopeful.”
Al Tamimi, who was instrumental in introducing judo and wrestling to UAE schools and clubs, has been actively involved in Remarenco and Scvortov’s build-up program for Tokyo.
“We have conducted a series of training camps and competitions to prepare both fighters,” he said. “They are both physically and mentally prepared to give their best. We are very happy with their build-up and their passion to compete for the UAE.
“Both Remarenco and Scvortov told me that they feel good and have no weaknesses going to Tokyo,” said Al Tamimi, who has over 30 years of experience in sports management and a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education.
“They are focused on their goals and wake up every day feeling a thirst that only events like the Olympics can trigger.
Rio medal breeds hope
The UAE won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games with Sergiu Toma, who reached the medal round in the men’s 81kg class. Toma, a naturalized citizen from Moldova, beat Japan’s Takanori Nagase to reach the semi-finals but lost to Russian fighter Khasan Khalmurzaev and failed to reach the final.
However, in the bronze medal match, he beat Italian Matteo Marconcini to give the UAE its first success in the sport. The UAE, incidentally, have won two medals so far in the Olympics - their best moment coming when Sheikh Ahmad Bin Mohammed Bin Hasher Al Maktoum shot his way to gold in double trap shooting in Athens 2004.
Hassan Al Noubi: on the fast lane
One of the stars of the UAE squad is sprinter Hassan Al Noubi, who will compete against the fastest men on the planet in the men’s 100 and 200 metres.
A member of the Sharjah Sports Club, the fact that Al Noubi is a maturing 30-year-old sprinter makes for a remarkable story.
An Olympic debutant, Al Noubi has worked hard at his craft and is continually shaving seconds off the clock as he hopes to peak at the right time and place.
“The 100 and 200 metres are the toughest events in the track & field competitions,” acknowledged Sulaiman Al Hajri, Director, Individual Sports, Sharjah Sports Club.
“Hassan has put in a huge effort despite the changes in the schedule for the Games. He has done everything that is required of him. We could not be happier with his preparation. It’s now up to him and how he performs.
“He participated in a two-week-long intense training camp in Sofia, Bulgaria and pleased his coach Vasco from Hungary). They have a good athlete-coach relationship and worked together on improving and fine-tuning Hassan’s technique and cardio,” Al Hajri added.
“He’s living the Olympic dream and is keen to make his club and country proud. It’s all up to him now and we wish him the best of luck.”
Yousuf Al Matrooshi: Hoping to make a big splash
Yousuf Al Matrooshi is the baby of the Olympic squad, but he is by no means letting that get in his way of making a name for himself when he dives into the pool at the Olympics Aquatics Centre.
Swimming will feature a record total of 37 events (18 for each gender and one mixed), with the new events being the men’s 800 m freestyle, women’s 1500 m freestyle, and the mixed 4 × 100 m medley relay.
However, Al Matrooshi takes his place in the 100 metres freestyle, one of six freestyle events in the discipline and the most demanding of them all.
And he has the backing of Sultan Al Samahi, the President of the UAE Swimming Federation. “Yousuf is a very exciting athlete,” said Al Samahi. “He’s young but is mature and hungry.
“The Olympics are the biggest stage in the world and could be quite daunting for any teenage swimmer. Not least Yousuf, but he has the right attitude and is not short on ability.
“He has worked very hard to get to Tokyo and wants to use the opportunity to test himself against the elite swimmers in the world,” he added.
“In his case, we have a long-term plan, way beyond Tokyo and looking ahead to the next Games in Paris and Los Angeles. We are giving him time as he is still young, but has an appetite for challenges.
“The 100 metres freestyle is a very difficult event. There is no margin for mistakes. Yousuf knows that and knows what he has to do to eliminate any negative aspects. He is mentally prepared and he told me that he has a good feeling about this Olympics,” said Al Samahi.
“He fits in well with the rest of the UAE Olympic squad and we are very hopeful that he will show us something special in Tokyo. But whatever happens, we will continue to invest in his ability because we believe that he has the talent, desire and dream to succeed on the international stage.”
Yousuf himself says that the Olympics will be a great learning experience and would prepare him for other international events like the Fina world swimming championship, set to be hosted in Abu Dhabi in December.
Saif Bin Futtais: On target in skeet
It was 17 years ago that Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Hasher Al Maktoum made the UAE proud when he won gold in the double trap shooting competition at Athens in 2004.
Now, Saif Bin Futtais hopes to repeat the feat when he competes in the skeet shooting competition which start on July 25. This is the second consecutive Olympics he will be participating in after finishing 29th in the same event at Rio.
Fast forward to Tokyo and Saif is more focused and motivated than he ever - which showed in the confidence with which he moved around the Olympic Village using one of the self-driving cars deployed in the village to serve the participating delegates.
A veteran marksman, having first made an international appearance in 1999, the left-handed Saif Bin Futtais believes that he is in top shape for the rigours of Olympic competition.
Two-time ISSF World Cup medallist Saif was also a gold medallist at the 2015 ISSF Shotgun World Cup in Larnaca, Cyprus, and boasts a high consistency of hitting targets in the skeet.
“The competition at the Olympics is always tough,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed, you have to be at your very best every time you step up to compete.
“You need a bit of luck, but mostly you need to make the least mistakes. That’s part of the game.”
Honour for Russi Al Hammadi
The UAE’s international volleyball referee, Ahmed Mohammed Al Russi Al Hammadi, has also been invited to be a part of the administration team for volleyball competitions at the Games.