Rio 2016: UAE deliver greatest Paralympic performance

As the last puffs of smoke drift away from the Closing Ceremony fireworks, the Emirati team is returning home from Rio after its best ever Paralympic Games. Will Jones looks back over 11 fantastic days of competition

Two weeks ago, the largest-ever Emirati Paralympic team set out for Rio. With 18 athletes competing in athletics, powerlifting and shooting, hopes were high that the UAE could break new ground at the 2016 Games – and so it proved. The team heads home with two gold medals, four silvers and a bronze, the biggest haul at a single Paralympic Games by an Emirati team.

Pride of place goes to the country’s two gold medallists, the first of whom was also the oldest athlete in the squad. Competing in his fifth Games at the age of 47, powerlifter Mohammed Khalaf had previously won a gold medal in 2004 and a silver four years later. Injury put paid to his medal chances at London 2012, but he came back with a vengeance in Rio, taking gold in the men’s -88kg. Two other Emirati powerlifters joined Khalaf in Rio: Ahmed Al Baloushi, who featured in the men’s +107kg, and Haifa Naqbi, who finished sixth in the women’s -86kg.

The UAE’s other gold medal came on the track, courtesy of another athlete who already had a pair of Paralympic medals in his collection. Wheelchair racer Mohammed Al Hammadi picked up a silver and a bronze at London 2012, and then completed his set with gold by beating Walid Ktila, the hot favourite from Tunisia, in the T33/34 800m. Al Hammadi, who also finished an agonising fourth in the T34 100m, was one of two Emirati track athletes at the Games; the other was Rashed Al Dhaheri, who took part in four T54 track events.

Half the members of the 18-strong Emirati squad competed in throwing events – winning two medals in the process. On Friday night, Sara Al Senaani became the UAE’s first-ever female medallist when she threw a personal best to win bronze in the F33 shot put, edging out Brydee Moore of Australia by just 1cm for a podium place. The following evening, her teammate Noura Al Ktebi took silver in the F32 shot put.

Earlier in the Games, Siham Al Rasheedy came a creditable sixth in the women’s F56/57 discus, and both Abdulaziz Al Shkeili and Ahmed Al Hosani delivered season’s-best performances in the men’s F33 shot put.

The men’s athletics squad for Rio 2016 also included Abdulla Hayayei, who finished sixth in the F34 javelin and seventh in the F34 shot put, and Saeed Mubarak, who threw a personal best in the F36 shot put. The women’s squad, meanwhile, also featured F31/32 club thrower Zenab Al Breiki, the youngest member of the team at just 20 years old, and F45/46 javelin specialist Maryam Al Matrooshi.

The other four members of the UAE team all took part in the shooting competition. Abdullah Saif Al Aryani, Saif Al Nuaimi and Obaid Al Dahmani joined veteran rifleman and team leader Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani at the Olympic Shooting Centre.

Four years after he won the UAE’s only gold at London 2012, Al Aryani came desperately closer to repeating his success, picking up no fewer than three silver medals. Closest of all was the mixed 50m air rifle prone event where he missed out on the top spot with the final shot of the competition.

Al Aryani’s three silvers are a great achievement, and he says he’s already looking ahead to the next Paralympics in Tokyo. Roll on 2020…