Lamia Al Farsi exhibiting the medals she has won so far during an interview with Gulf News recently. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Lamia Al Farsi is just 11 years old but the conviction and the dedication she has belies her age. The young Emirati rhythmic gymnast has a simple mantra to achieve her goals. Her goal is to win the gold medal in the Youth Olympics in four years’ time and, to reach her target, she has one simple formula: Never give up.

Speaking to Gulf News, the budding Emirati champion listed her recent achievements, her future targets and how much she has sacrificed to get to this stage.

“I was always in Germany and I met my Idol, Russian champion Margarita Mamun. There she told me something that I would never forget till date. Never give up,” Lamia recollects the golden advice.

The young Emirati has been performing at the top level since the age of seven and has won several medals including the prestigious award in the Local Creative Sports category in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Awards. Having achieved all that, she has made sacrifices galore along the way and has felt unhappy at times with all that has been required of her.

“Now I realise it is for the good,” said a smiling Lamia and hailing her parents’ support. “You need to get fresh air and you need to exercise and train at least twice a week. I train six days a week. It made me feel strong.”

Lamia holding the prestigious prestigious award in the Local Creative Sports category in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Awards. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

As a seven-year-old, Lamia, who has already won top honours at various international competitions in Europe, was easily the pick of the lot while winning gold in the Mini A category during the one-day First Emarat National Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship in 2018.

There has been no looking back since then as she recently finished on the podium during the Besiktas JK Cup in Istanbul in July, capping it with a gold medal in her first international competition since the Covid-19 pandemic, having competed against older opponents.

“They [organisers] didn’t tell us until the awards ceremony and I didn’t know. I thought we were only competing with girls of my 2011 category,” Lamia said, quick to focus on the positives from that experience. “There is going to be a time that I have to compete with older girls, not even 2010, even 2009 and 2008. It’s my first time competing with older girls and I did get third, first and second place. I took the challenge happily.”

Feeling of failure

A remarkable attitude that befits the champion. It did not come easily. She was in tears after finishing second in Germany, a feat that made everyone happy, but not her.

“I didn’t like the feeling of failure. I am now used to it and see girls better than me winning. I want to be like them,” she added.

Such winning traits don’t come easily. One has to endure plenty of pain, make lots of sacrifices and have a singular focus, to improve and win. During the early days, Lamia would cry because of pain due to the number or routines and the stretches one had to do to be supple and nimble on one’s feet. Thanks to her parents’ support and the guidance from her Ukrainian coach Veronica Chukanova, Lamia is now enjoying every bit of it, despite having to stay on her toes, literally, for a good part of her training routine.

Lamia stretching
Lamia, assisted by coach Veronica Chukanova, going through her stretching routine during a training session. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“My toes don’t hurt. Flat-footed doesn’t look pretty. We have to be on high heels to look taller. I am happy training and I have improved a lot and am proud of my effort,” said Lamia, who also does horse riding on Saturdays after training six days a week for rhythmic gymnastics. “Sundays are my off days and it is the day I use for studying,” she adds, highlighting her dedication and single-minded focus.

Chukanova, a former gymnast with a professional career of 15 years in Ukraine in rhythmic gymnastics and who has participated in World Cups, has high praise for Lamia’s attitude.

Ups and downs

“In sport, it is never the same. There are ups and there are downs. Whatever happens, Lamia shows the right spirit and is always ready to train. She never really stops. Many girls who started with her didn’t continue as they refused to train after a failure, but Lamia still trains hard. Always there are areas of improvement, there is no limit. But she is always trying to improve.”

With the new season ready to resume, Lamia is preparing for the GCC Grand Series to be held in Dubai in November with an eye on the Federation of International Gymnastics event in Singapore in December.

“I want to be the first Emirati gymnast from the UAE to win the gold medal in the Youth Olympics in 2026,” says the 11-year-old emphatically.

Rhythmic gymnastics is gaining in popularity in UAE and currently there are over 10 clubs in Dubai alone. The little champion has some words of advice for aspiring talents in this difficult sport.

“Many girls gave up after one failure, this is not how the sport works. Be strong, be brave and don’t give up,” says the little champ who used to train seven to eight hours even as a six-year-old.