World class: sports development

State-of-the art facilities, ideal training conditions and Olympic expertise are establishing Dubai as a leading sports hub

The ultra-marathon endeavours of a Dubai-based executive have highlighted how world class sports facilities are raising the region’s sporting profile on a global stage.

Kate Willoughby, 32, decided in January 2012 that she would circumnavigate ‘The World’ - a cluster of 300 man-made islands off the coast of Dubai – to raise money for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that had struck her six-year-old nephew, Harrison.

But before she could achieve the unique feat of swimming the 25km course, non-stop, she faced a mammoth task. “I hadn’t swum seriously for 14 years and couldn’t do more than 20 lengths of my local 25m pool.”

Training support

So Kate, an executive at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, approached the national sports council for help. “They approved my plan, offered me support and put me in touch with Jay Benner.” Benner is the UAE team coach and former professional open water long distance swimmer. “Jay was fantastic- there’s is no better guidance than from someone who has been there and done it.”

The facilities at the 50m Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex were made available to her. “It’s an exceptional pool where I could bash out hour after hour of training,” she says.

Beyond the huge benefits available to amateur enthusiasts such as Kate Willoughby, Dubai’s impressive and expanding portfolio of sporting arena and on-hand coaching expertise is attracting more and more elite professionals and Olympians to the region too.

The superb Hamdan complex will host the FINA/Midea World Diving Series (March 21-23) having last year staged the FINA swimming world cup which featured a host of international stars such as  South Africans Chad Le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh and women’s freestyle champion Therese Alshammar from Sweden.

Team GB poster-boy and 2012 Olympic bronze diving medallist Tom Daley prepared for the London Games at the same venue, while another London 2012 success - double trap shooting gold medallist Peter Wilson - credits the training facilities in the Emirates as being pivotal in his achievements for Team GB.

World-class facilities

Top European football sides including AC Milan and Paris St Germain have now established winter training camps in the emirate and the outstanding facilities at Dubai Sports City have been praised and patronised by world number one golfer Rory McIlroy along with the England, Australia and Sri Lanka cricket teams.

The worldwide growth in popularity of road racing sports like marathons, triathlons and Iron Man events are also reflected in the increased provision and availability of performance analysis technology in Dubai. Hi-tech sports science labs and gyms are aiding the amateur and professionals alike. “I visited Up & Running a lot,” explains Kate Willoughby. “They’re a specialist sports centre in Jumeirah who provided full medical checks and V02 max testing along with weekly body conditioning sessions.”

A prize example of how quickly the region has established itself on the world sports stage is the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. What began as a low-key event attracting just 249 marathon runners in 2000 is now a marquee, ‘must run’ race in the international athletics calendar.

Almost 20,000 runners took part in three separate races – a marathon, 10k and a fun run – in January 2013 with an elite field of world-class runners leading the way, including eventual winners Ethiopians Lelisa Desisa (men’s) and Tirfi Tsegaye (women’s) along with defending men’s champion Mergia Aselefech (Ethiopia) and leading female runners Alevtina Ivanova of Russia and Japan's Misaki Katsumata.

For Kate Willoughby the amenities and expertise in Dubai enabled her to raise much needed money for a little known disease. “The life expectancy for Duchenne children is late teens, it’s 100 per cent fatal – but there’s real potential for a cure if we can raise awareness.” Her training culminated in a world first, in November 2012, swimming ‘around the world’ in 11 hours.