Ahead of Friday’s Olympic final of the women’s 10,000m, we turn back the clock to the 2014 Asian Games when Alia Saeed Mohammed won the UAE’s first athletics gold medal in championship history
When Alia Saeed Mohammed switched allegiance from her native Ethiopia to the UAE in 2010, it was hoped that she could make an impact on the international stage and, in so doing, raise the profile of athletics in her adopted country. Four years later, the long-distance runner delivered in the most spectacular style, on an unforgettable evening in the South Korean city of Incheon.
Going into the 2014 Asian Games, the UAE’s previous best athletics result at the Games was the bronze medal won by sprinter Omar Juma Al-Salifa in the 200m in 2010. That all changed on the opening night of competition on 27 September when Saeed delivered the performance of her life in the women’s 10,000m.
After winning the silver medal over the same distance at the 2013 Asian Athletics Championships and also taking the runner-up spot at the 2014 Asian Cross Country Championships, she was among the leading contenders for the title. However, few people could have predicted what would follow over the next 25 laps.
It was a hotly contested race from the gun, as the athletes set off at a blistering pace in the Asiad Main Stadium. With five laps remaining, Saeed made her decisive move, leading a breakaway of three athletes. Despite tiring in the final 400m, she was too strong for China’s Ding Chanqin and Japan’s Ayumi Hagiwara and was rewarded for her courageous front running when she crossed the line first in a time of 31:51.86.
Not only had she won the UAE’s first-ever athletics gold medal at the Games, but Saeed had set a new national record for 10,000m, beating her previous best mark by more than 40 seconds.
Encouragingly, things have got even better for the UAE star since that momentous evening in Incheon. Proving that she has the pace for shorter distances, Saeed won bronze in the 3,000m at this year’s Asian Indoor Championships and then, at the Dubai Police Officers’ Club in April, she ran the 10,000m in 31:10:25 to smash her national record once again.
That performance, which was more than 30 seconds quicker than the winning time at the 2015 World Championships, has given Saeed confidence ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “I am extremely happy with the new time after shaving off more than 40 seconds from the previous mark. I think I am peaking well in time for the Olympics,” Saeed said after setting the new record. “I have got a lot of confidence through such a quick time. I know I can do even better. The key from now on is to keep working hard on the field and then get ready to peak in time for Rio.”
Two years after that memorable moment at the Asian Games, Saeed could be poised to make history for the UAE again – this time on the biggest sporting stage of all.
Alia Saeed Mohammed will compete in the women’s 10,000m on Friday, August 12, starting at 6.10pm (UAE time)