Humaid Al Derei secured a bronze medal at the Gulf Judo Championships in Kuwait in 2009 and then a silver at the West Asian Judo Championships held in Yemen in 2010. Image Credit: Courtesy: Humaid Al Derei

The first UAE judoka to qualify for Olympics, Humaid Al Derei, feels it was a chance medal as a 15-year-old which convinced him to stick to the sport rather than football — the first love of any Emirati youth.

He was just 15 when Al Derei claimed a silver in the men’s 66kg category of the 2005 Arab Judo Championships in Egypt, an achievement which made him continue with the martial arts. The persistence certainly paid off this year when he was confirmed in the UAE Olympic squad.

“Going to an Olympic Games gives me huge confidence and at the same time, I feel responsible to represent my country in the most fitting manner,” Al Derei told Gulf News as he continued with his final preparations for the Games at the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu Federation in Abu Dhabi.

“That silver medal in Egypt in 2005 gave me so much self-belief that I just stuck to my sport instead of looking at any other discipline,” he recalled.

Further success followed for the talented teenager as he secured a bronze medal at the Gulf Judo Championships in Kuwait in 2009 and then another silver at the West Asian Judo Championships held in Yemen in 2010. “Now when I look back at all those years of practice and competition, I find it a bit amusing that I just stuck to one sport. Most of my friends or the people I knew me would be amused that I was practising a sport like judo so seriously when kids my age were too busy doing other popular sports like football,” Al Derei said.

The 21-year-old was named in the UAE Olympic team after impressing at last year’s World Judo Championships in France. Commenting on his selection, he said: “That was an unbelievable moment for me. It took a few days for the news to sink in. I went through all sorts of sacrifices and hard work practising a sport like judo and this ultimately has given me the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympic Games. I simply cannot explain what I felt at that moment.”

Al Derei has been hard at work in training preparing for the Games in recent weeks, attending a training camp in Jordan earlier this summer before returning to the UAE to continue his preparations prior to his departure on July 25.

“What more can I ask for? I wanted to represent my country at an Olympic Games and here I am living my dream. My aim in London will be to go and give of my best,” he said.

“Of course, everyone who is going to be at the Olympics is going to be strong and well prepared. I, too, have undertaken adequate preparations to ensure I return with some good results. I will do what I can and the rest I will leave up to God,” Al Derei added.