The rescheduled 2022 Asian Games will take place in Hangzhou, China from September 23 to October 8 and will see 140 Emirati athletes participate across 20 sports.
At the last Asiad in Jakarta five years ago, the UAE walked away with 14 medals (three gold, six silver, five bronze), which was the country’s best haul to date in the history of the Asian Games.
Here are six to look out for in Hangzhou.
Shamma Al Kalbani (jiu-jitsu)
Jiu-jitsu was included in the Asian Games for the first time at Jakarta 2018, and the UAE took full advantage by clinching nine medals – more than any other nation – including two gold via Hamad Nawad (-56kg) and Faisal Al Ketbi (-94kg).
The sport returns to the Asiad schedule for the second time and there will be 16 jiu-jitsu practitioners representing the UAE in Hangzhou.
Among those is 20-year-old Shamma Al Kalbani, who is fresh off a gold medal showing at the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) Youth World Championships in Kazakhstan last month.
Dubbed by national team captain Al Ketbi – who is the UAE’s most decorated jiu-jitsu fighter – as the nation’s “golden girl”, Al Kalbani made history last year when she became the first Emirati woman to win a medal at the World Games, securing two bronzes in the -63kg and open weight divisions in Alabama at age 19.
Al Ketbi, 35, is the first Emirati black belt in jiu-jitsu. He won gold in the -94kg division at the 2018 Asian Games and will be looking to defend his title in Hangzhou.
Sultan Al Nuaimi (boxing)
Sultain Al Nuaimi extended his perfect pro boxing record to 10-0 by outclassing Tanzanian Jemsi Kibazange by unanimous decision in their super flyweight bout at the inaugural Rising Stars Arabia meeting in Abu Dhabi this month.
The 30-year-old now heads to Hangzhou as one of four UAE boxers competing in the Asian Games – alongside Mohamed Al Hefetti, Husain Al Kandari and Nawwaf Al Zahmi – and he has his eyes on Olympic qualification for Paris 2024.
“I feel this fight and the training I had for it has provided me the confidence and best preparation for the Asian Games. The first four here will qualify for the Paris Olympics next year. Hopefully, I can qualify,” said Al Nuaimi following his recent victory in the UAE capital.
Sarah Al Ameri and Hawraa Al Ajmi (karate)
The UAE's karate medal hopes rest with Sarah Al Ameri and Hawraa Al Ajmi.
Two years ago, Al Ameri, 21, made history when she clinched the gold medal in the kumite -61kg category at the Asian Karate Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, becoming the first Emirati woman to top the podium in an individual event on the continental level in the sport.
The NYUAD graduate more recently secured a silver medal at the Asian Karate Championships in Malacca, Malaysia in July and will be one to watch in the kumite -61kg class in Hangzhou. She is ranked 31 in the world.
The UAE’s only other medal from Malaysia two months ago came via world No 25 Al Ajmi, who scooped bronze in the kumite -50kg event.
The 27-year-old, who competes for the Sharjah Ladies Club, was also a bronze medallist in the Asian Championships last year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
In the most recent Asian Games, in 2018, Al Ajmi lost in the quarter-finals to eventual silver medallist Bakhriniso Babaeva.
Showjumping team (equestrian)
Earlier this year, a group of Emirati showjumpers claimed a historic qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics, where the UAE will compete as a full team for the first time.
Abdulla Al Marri, riding James VD Oude Heihoef, Abdullah Al Muhairi on Chacolu, Omar Al Marzooqi, on Dalida van de Zuuthoeve, and Mohammed Al Hajri on G’s Fabian, punched the UAE’s ticket to Paris at the qualifier event in Doha in March.
Al Marri, Al Marzooqi and Al Hajri will be joined by Salem Al Suwaidi in Hangzhou, where the UAE will be looking to grab its first team medal in showjumping at the Asian Games since winning silver in 2010 in Guangzhou.
Safiya Al Sayegh (cycling)
A three-time UAE national road race champion and the country’s first professional female cyclist (signing with a WorldTeam no less), Safiya Al Sayegh will be looking to show her mettle on the continental stage when she heads to Hangzhou.
A bronze medallist in the individual time trial in the under-23 category at the Asian Championships last year,Al Sayegh, 21, will take on the road race and the individual time trial at these Asian Games.
The UAE Team ADQ rider has made great strides since she placed fourth in the road race in the Asian Junior Cycling Championships in 2019 and will be looking to make her mark in Hangzhou.