Rio 2016: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About…UAE Olympians

Following Friday’s spectacular Opening Ceremony, the action is coming thick and fast at Rio 2016. As the 13 Olympians of the UAE team go for gold across a range of sports, Gruffudd Owen shares a few things you might not know about them… 

1. Nada Al Bedwawi (Swimming – Women’s 50m Freestyle)

Fresh from completing her first year at New York University Abu Dhabi where she studies biology, the 18-year-old will make history in Rio as the UAE’s first-ever female Olympic swimmer, competing in the 50m freestyle via a wildcard entry. Nada celebrates her 19th birthday just days after the final – can she make it a celebration to remember?

2. Yaaqoub Al Saadi (Swimming – Men’s 100m Backstroke)

Another of the UAE’s brightest young swimming talents, the 20-year-old is already the national record holder in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke, having set the benchmark during the 3rd Arab Swimming Championships in April.

3. His Highness Sheikh Saeed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Shooting – Men’s Skeet)

The first of the UAE’s three musketeers, HH Sheikh Saeed is an Olympic veteran, with Rio set to be his fifth successive Games. One of the UAE’s most experienced competitors, he carried the nation’s flag at the opening ceremony of London 2012.

4. Saif Bin Futtais (Shooting – Men’s Skeet)

The 42-year-old is a former jet ski pilot and qualified for Rio with victory in three shoot-offs at the 2015 Shotgun World Cup in Cyprus. While he may be participating in the same discipline as HH Sheikh Saeed in Rio, their strategy is one based on collaboration rather than competition, with the latter serving as a mentor for Bin Futtais.

5. Khaled Al Kaabi (Shooting – Men’s Double Trap)

The last of the UAE’s shooting triumvirate. A newcomer to shooting having taken up the sport less than three years ago, Al Kaabi’s commitment to his craft is well-known. He has previously revealed that he trains seven hours a day, five days a week back in Dubai, and has been in Brazil with his shooting compatriots since July 24 as he aims to get used to the Rio conditions.

6. Sergiu Toma (Judo – Men’s -81kg)

It may be a first Games for Toma as a UAE athlete, however he is certainly no stranger to the Olympics, having represented his country of birth Moldova in both 2008 and 2012. Since becoming eligible for his adopted country in 2013, he has risen to ninth in the world in his -81kg weight division, and will be a serious contender for a place on the podium in Rio.

7. Ivan Remarenco (Judo – Men’s -100kg)

Like Toma, Remarenco competed for Moldova at London 2012 before switching allegiance to the UAE in 2013. He was a bronze medallist at the 2014 World Championships, and turns 28 on 7 August – with the -100kg event scheduled for August 11. However, his focus will be solely on the dojo.

8. Victor Scvortov (Judo – Men’s -73kg)

If the UAE’s shooting competitors are the three musketeers, then the country’s trio of judokas are the Moldovan martial artists. Scvortov makes up the last of the eastern Europeans who have opted to represent the UAE; he won two grand prix gold medals in 2014 as well as bronze at the World Championships in the same year.

9. Yousif Mirza (Cycling – Men’s Road Race)

A poster boy for the sport in the UAE, Mirza became the first Emirati cyclist to secure an individual sponsorship deal in July when he signed up with Giant – the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturer. Four-time winner of the UAE National Championships and a runner-up in last year’s Asian Cycling Championships, he has even recovered from a motorcycle accident he suffered last May in which he broke bones in his leg and shoulders. A true man of steel.

10. Aisha Al Balooshi (Weightlifting – Women’s -58kg)

Al Balooshi is another Emirati who has dabbled in different sports in the past. The 24-year-old was a keen runner and volleyball player before she switched her attention to pumping iron in 2009, and after winning two golds and a silver at last December’s Arab Championships held in Egypt, she will be full of confidence in Rio.

11. Betlhem Desalegn (Athletics – Women’s 1500m)

A six-time Asian champion, Desalegn has made it to the finals of the IAAF World Indoor Championships twice and has prior Olympic experience, having run for the UAE at London 2012. The 24-year-old triumphed in both the 1500m and 5000m at the Asian Indoor Championships in Doha in February, and will be hoping to improve on her performance at London 2012 when she bowed out of the 1500m heats.

12. Alia Saeed (Athletics – Women’s 10,000m)

Ethiopian-born like her fellow track athlete Desalegn, Alia Saeed will be making her Olympic debut in Rio. She won gold at the 2014 Asian Games and the 2015 Asian Championships, while she is also the Asian record-holder for the women’s indoor 5000m.

13. Saud Al Zaabi (Athletics – Men’s 1500m)

Selected at the last minute to replace hammer thrower Mohamed Omar Al Khatib in the UAE’s Olympic squad, Al Zaabi only found out he was heading to Rio while training in Morocco last month. The ultimate wildcard, he has never competed at a GCC, Arab or Asian championship. Can this relative unknown entity shock the world?