Rio 2016: Aisha Al Balooshi ready for lift-off

Today sees the Olympic debut of Aisha Al Balooshi, the sole Emirati weightlifter at Rio 2016. The 24-year-old lifter has worked terrifically hard to reach the biggest stage in sport, as Will Jones explains

Earlier this year, the International Weightlifting Federation awarded the UAE an Olympic qualifying place after the team’s performance at the 2016 Asian Championships in Tashkent. The selectors chose Aisha Al Balooshi to represent the country in Rio – and today, the spotlight will be on the young lifter as she makes her Olympic debut.

Although just 24 years old, Al Balooshi is one of the most experienced lifters in the UAE. Since taking up the sport in 2009, she’s amassed a fine medal haul, building her training regime around her job as a consumer rights inspector in Dubai. At Rio, she’ll be following in the footsteps of Khadija Mohammed, who became the first female Emirati lifter to reach the Games when she competed at London 2012 just a month after her 17th birthday.

Some observers expected the selectors to choose Al Balooshi’s teammate Amna Al Haddad as the UAE’s representative. However, the more experienced Al Balooshi put in the stronger performance at the Asian Championships, finishing a credible 10th in the 58kg weight category. Al Haddad, who’s been suffering from a back problem, has been generous in her support of her compatriot. “I am injured and wouldn’t have been able to give my best performance,” she admitted, adding: “It is an incredible achievement that we are sending someone to the Games, as the sport of weightlifting is only eight years old in this country.”

Al Balooshi agrees that she’s really the avatar for her hardworking team. “While I feel really fortunate that I have been chosen to represent my country at the Olympics, this honour belongs to each and every member of the team. I would not be on this trip without them and I hope I will make all of them proud.”

Aisha Al Balooshi will compete in the women’s 58kg event on Monday, August 8 starting at 7.30pm (UAE time)