UAE Paralympic gold medallist Abdulla Al Aryani returned home with the a large contingent of the team that competed at the Tokyo Paralympic Games squad on Monday and immediately set his sights on winning a third gold at Paris 2024.
The Emirati shooter claimed his second Olympic gold by winning in the 50m Rifle 3P SH1 final in Tokyo, nine years after collecting his first in London.
Al Aryani, 51, spoke of the difficulty of competing under strict Covid-19 protocols and dedicated his medal to the UAE's rulers.
“London was my first gold and there was no pressure whatsoever,” he told The National at the airport’s VIP lounge on Monday early morning.
“Tokyo was very hard on everyone because of the daily coronavirus tests we had to undergo. It was very difficult for us in a competition like shooting because it required a lot of concentration.
“To return with a gold under these circumstances I think was a really good result for me. It needed four times the effort of London and I’m delighted I managed to bring gold for my country.
“I dedicate this medal for the Rulers of our country for the unstinted support they have provided us and to the people who sent us loads and loads of kind and motivating messages every day.”
Al Aryani, 51, struck gold in the Mixed 50m Air Rifle 3 Positions SH1 with a total score of 453.6, with Serbia's Laslo Suranji taking silver on 452.9. Shim Youngjip of South Korea completed the podium after a score of 442.2.
He also won gold in the Mixed 50m Rifle Prone in London and three silvers at Rio 2016, double gold at the 2018 World Championships in Cheongju, Korea, and a gold and silver at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
“The gold at Tokyo beats all of them because it was achieved under difficult conditions,” Al Aryani, who was left paralysed from below the waist down in a car accident in 2001, said of his latest achievement.
“On the positive side, Tokyo was a good experience. Not because of any organisational issues but the prevailing pandemic situation. It was an exceptional Paralympic Games.
“Looking ahead, I have three major events to look forward to. The Asian Games, the World Championships and Paris 2024. I will now take a little break and will be back preparing for Hangzhou [Asian Para Games].”
Saeed Abdul Ghaffar, general secretary of UAE General Sports Authority, and Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, were at the airport to welcome back the Paralympic team.
Mohamed Al Hammadi, who won a silver and bronze in the T34 wheelchair 800m and 100m and powerlifter Mohammed Khamis Khalaf were not among the UAE squad returning to Abu Dhabi. Both are scheduled to arrive in Dubai on Tuesday.
The 12-member squad returned with a gold, silver and bronze, which according to Mohammed Fadhel Al Hameli, chairman of the UAE Paralympic Committee who accompanied the team as chef de mission, was a “good achievement” given the pandemic situation.
“We can take a lot of positives from Tokyo,” he said. “It has been an exceptional Paralympic Games and we understand the difficulties our athletes had to go through and they were necessitated by the prevailing situation around the world.
“From this experience, we will be better prepared if the Covid situation still prevail during the Asian Games, which is our next major event.
“Even otherwise, we have a good programme drawn up for our para athletes. We will continue to provide them all the support and draw up external camps to prepare for our next major event.”