Our reporter in Rio, Michael Stoneman, sits down with the UAE shooter after he agonisingly misses out on a place in the Olympic double trap shooting final
As a first warrant officer in the Abu Dhabi Police force, Khaled Al Kaabi is trained to deal with challenging situations. But taking part in the Olympic Games for the first time, in front of a huge global audience, is enough to make anyone go weak at the knees.
And for 31-year-old Al Kaabi, who is one of the UAE’s leading shooters, competing in the double trap event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Wednesday proved to be one of the most nerve-wracking moments of his life.
“When you are at the Olympics you feel different,” he says. “When you stand up there to compete, everything changes – your movements, your vision and your heartbeat. You try to fight with yourself to control it, but it is difficult.”
When you stand up there to compete, everything changes – your movements, your vision and your heartbeat. You try to fight with yourself to control it, but it is difficult
Despite battling his nerves, Al Kaabi performed admirably at Rio’s Olympic Shooting Centre, finishing ninth in qualification after hitting 134 of 150 targets over the five rounds, and missing out on a shoot-off for a place in the semi-final by just one target.
“I was very close,” he says. “I did my best. The weather was not great for shooting. I made some mistakes and I need more experience to be ready for the next time. I hope I have made everyone in my country proud. I will do everything I can to improve for the next time.”
Al Kaabi only took up the sport two-and-a-half years ago and admits that his main aim had been to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But after winning gold in the Asian Shooting Qualifiers earlier this year, he secured the chance to make his Olympic debut in Rio – and takes great pride in representing his country on sport’s biggest stage.
“I feel very proud,” he says. “It’s my first time at the Olympic Games. My plan was always to qualify for Tokyo in 2020, so this has all happened faster than I expected. I never thought Rio was a possibility. Now that I see myself here, I’ll do my best to improve.”
The Al Ain local has every reason to believe in his ability to succeed on the global stage, as the shooter who won gold in Rio was Fehaid Al Deehani, whom Al Kaabi beat earlier this year.
And Al Kaabi believes that what he has learnt in Rio will stand him in good stead as he targets future success.
“This has been a big experience for me,” he admits. “I’ve been staying in the Olympic Village and I’ve seen talented athletes from lots of other sports. Everyone is fighting to write their name in history. When you see yourself among them as well, you feel so proud. I feel different now; in my mind, everything has changed.”
While Al Kaabi may not be returning to Abu Dhabi with a medal, he will be bringing an even greater determination to succeed – and that in itself is worth its weight in gold.
Everyone is fighting to write their name in history. When you see yourself among them as well, you feel so proud. I feel different now; in my mind, everything has changed
“I’ll never stop,” he says. “I’m a fighter; I’ll do my best to become the best in 2020.”
There was some success for the UAE in the double trap, however; after winning the bronze medal, Steven Scott paid tribute to His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum. The 2004 Olympic champion, who is also Al Kaabi’s coach, had been working with the British athlete ahead of the Games.