A flight steward will represent UAE in international kayaking competition for the first time on Wednesday, 12 years after ending his paddling career with his homeland to move to Dubai.
Milan Gajdobranski was part of the Serbia national team before he moved to the UAE, where he works as a member of cabin crew for Emirates Airline.
He will return to the international paddling arena when he competes at the International Canoe Federation World Championship in Duisburg, Germany.
As the lone UAE competitor at the event, he was the flag bearer at Tuesday’s opening ceremony.
His long absence from major events means he has modest expectations for the competition. He is set to compete in heats over 200 metres and 500m on Wednesday.
“I am looking forward to passing the qualification groups and I would be happy to reach the B finals in this competition,” Gajdobranski said.
Having UAE participation in major international paddling events is still novel.
Dubai-based schoolboy Balasz Bartfai became the first UAE representative at an international canoeing competition last September when he raced at the junior World Championships in Hungary.
The sport is growing in the country, with the Emirates Canoe and Rafting Federation hoping to send paddlers to the Olympic Games in the future.
Mike Ballard, the American-born kayaker, also trains with the UAE team in Dubai as he targets participation in the Paris Paralympics next year.
Krisztian Bartfai, three-time Olympian with Hungary who is overseeing the development of the sport in Dubai, says anything Gajdobranski can achieve in Duisburg will be a bonus.
“Because he is just back to kayaking our expectations are not high for Milan, just participation, but if he can reach the semi-final that will be a big thing,” Bartfai Sr said.
“If he goes even further, it would be an amazing result for him. It is really just the start of his second career in kayaking.”
Aside from Gajdobranski, there are 10 other kayakers who are preparing to represent UAE in international races over the coming months.
There are also plans to stage ICF events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or potentially Sharjah over the space of the next 18 months.
“This is part of our attempt to build the sport of paddling in the UAE,” Bartfai Sr said.
“We want to put the UAE and Dubai onto the paddling map.”