Adil Khalid's sailing career has come full circle. Last year it reached its peak when he was part of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew that won the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race on-board Azzam.
The Emirati returns to his first love of one-man Laser sailing at the Asian Sailing Championships 2016 in Abu Dhabi, which runs until Saturday. At stake is a place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
Khalid, 28, has already represented his country at one Games, in Beijing in 2008, and he hopes to be celebrating qualification for this summer’s showpiece in Brazil by the weekend.
“Of course, 2008 was a landmark year for me,” Khalid said. “In 2007, I was Arab champion, and then I went on to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. It was an amazing experience.”
Khalid was only 17 when he won the Arab Championship in the Laser class and quickly progressed to the Olympic category Laser Standard. His experiences in China have left him craving more.
And for more on Olympic sialing see: A review of Olympic class sailing disciplines from the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup Final in Abu Dhabi
“When you arrive at the stadium and you see the UAE flag, and you’re walking around and looking at the best athletes in the world, it’s the height of joy,” he said. “You are with the best professionals, the best sailors from the around the world. You can learn from them, every day you pick up new experiences.”
Khalid said that just being around the Olympic Village was an eye-opening experience, giving him first-hand experience of the meticulous planning put in by the athletes.
“It’s thrilling and gives us the motivation to plan for the future,” he said. “We should always plan ahead, plan to create Olympians in two or three years, or in a certain period of time. Plan programmes we can implement to give them the best possible chance of qualifying to the Olympics.”
Khalid got his start in sailing regional events and he says other Emiratis looking to follow in his footsteps must be prepared to put the hours in on the water.
“We went through that, we went through the most difficult challenges of our lives to get to the Olympics,” he said. “Today all the facilities and opportunities are available but we need to be serious and funding needs to be there, and hopefully that will produce better results.”
As part of his preparations for the Asian Championships, Khalid had a stint training with the five-man crew of Red Bull Extreme Sailing, led by two of his “heroes”, Austrian double Olympic gold medalists Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher.
“It helps to gain experience from those who have been doing this for years,” he said. “It’s a different experience for me, not like taking part in the round-the-world race when you spend nine months racing day and night. Here you have to go all out and focus on a short course. Every mistake could be costly.
“Everybody has their own background and experience in sailing,” he said. “They have more experience than me in extreme sailing but perhaps I have more in the round-the-world sailing.”
Having experienced victory in the Volvo Ocean Race, Khalid is now hoping to repay those who have supported him throughout his career, including the UAE National Olympic Committee, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club as well as Saeed Hareb, secretary general of Dubai Sports Council and chief executive of Dubai International Marine Club.
“The feeling after winning the Volvo Ocean Race was pure ecstasy,” he said. “Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed backed us and honoured us when we returned. It was a great privilege to meet them and present him with the trophy in the presence of the other leaders. It was an honour for me, for my family and for everyone who loves sailing.”
Khalid said sailing is “an important sport for the country” and he hopes to once again fly the flag for his country at the Olympics.
“We hope that that we continue to be supported,” he said. “We want to make the country proud. From a young age we loved sailing and looked forward to days like these, and we will go anywhere to show that.
“I will represent my country and my flag in any category, and we hope that the country’s leaders continue to support sailing.”
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