Rio de Janeiro has hardly had time to catch its breath after a spectacular Olympics – and now, it’s the turn of the Paralympics. As the Games gets under way, Will Jones takes a look at the UAE’s chances of coming home with more medals from Brazil
With 528 gold medals to be handed out in just 11 days of competition, the Rio Paralympics promises a packed programme of action between now and next weekend. The UAE have sent their largest ever delegation to the Paralympics, and hopes are high that they’ll be able to better their three-medal tally from London 2012.
In the shooting competition, all eyes will be on Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani, who won the UAE’s only Paralympic gold medal in London four years ago. The 46-year-old rifleman has been shooting competitively on the international stage for two decades, but he’s still at the top of his game: in Al Ain back in January, he took two gold medals at the first IPC Shooting World Cup ever to be held in the UAE, and was subsequently given the prestigious IPC Allianz Athlete of the Month Award.
As well as defending his crown in the mixed 50m rifle prone (SH1) competition, Al Aryani will be competing in three other events in Rio. He’s leading a four-man Emirati shooting squad that also includes three athletes from Al Ain, Obaid Al Dahmani, Abdullah Saif Al Aryani and Saif Al Nuaimi . Al Aryani knows the trio very well – he’s their coach.
The UAE have only won one other gold medal in Paralympic history – and the man who won it, 47-year-old powerlifter and 2004 gold medallist Mohammed Khamis Khalaf, will be aiming for the podium in Rio. After a disappointing performance in London, Khalaf will be hoping that his fifth Paralympic Games will be one to remember. He’ll be joined in a three-person Emirati powerlifting team by Ahmed Khamis Al Baloushi[WFJ2] , who’s recovered brilliantly from a terrible injury suffered at London 2012, and Haifa Naqbi, who’s making her Paralympic debut.
The leader of the athletics squad is Mohamed Al Hammadi, a terrific wheelchair racer from Sharjah who won a silver and bronze in London in the men’s T34 200m and 100m competitions. (T34 denotes the athlete’s sport class – athletes in many Paralympic sports are given a classification, which determines their eligibility to compete in different events.) Al Hammadi won three silver medals at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha last year, and looks a good bet to go one better in Rio.
The only other member of the UAE athletics team with Paralympic experience is Siham Al Rasheedy, who bagged a pair of top-ten finishes four years ago in the women’s F57/58 discus and javelin competitions. Everyone else, though, will be making their Paralympic debuts. On the track, look out for men’s T54 wheelchair racer Rashed Al Dhaheri[WFJ6] . And in the field, men’s F34 discus specialist Abdullah Hassan Hayayei[WFJ7] is joined by three female throwers: Noura Al Ktebi[WFJ8] (F32, club throw and shot put), Sara Al Senaani[WFJ9] (F36/37 discus) and Zenab Al Braiki[WFJ10] (F32 club throw), the youngest member of the team at just 20 years old.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games takes place from September 7 to 18