Olympics: Emirati judoka dazzled but not outwitted

Having to battle an eye condition, Humaid Al Derei is more concerned by flashing lights than his competition tomorrow, writes Paul Radley.
Humaid Al Derei, right, knows he is up against tough competition tomorrow, but will not be overawed. Ravindranath K / The National
Humaid Al Derei, right, knows he is up against tough competition tomorrow, but will not be overawed. Ravindranath K / The National

Appearing at an Olympic Games is supposed to represent the realisation of a lifetime of aspiration and endeavour.

Of the 17,000 or so competitors who are in London to take part over the course of the next two weeks, the vast majority would list being here as the climax of achievement, rather than a means to an end.

Not so for Humaid Al Derei, the 21-year-old judoka from Abu Dhabi. It is entirely possible that the Emirati's competitive involvement in the Games could last for just five minutes – or possibly even less, if his first-round opponent from Egypt can execute the perfect ippon tomorrow morning.

Such are the risks of taking part in international judo competitions. The possibility of such a brief involvement seems totally out of kilter with the depth of sacrifice made to get here in the first place.

Happily for Al Derei, judo is for life, not just the Olympics. "I am looking far away," he said.

"The Olympics in London is not my final step. I have many ideas for what to do in the future, even if I don't continue in judo as a player.

"I will stay in judo. Maybe I will be a manager of a player, maybe I will be a coach, we don't know. But I will always remain in judo, with my friends."

With such a sanguine attitude to competition, Al Derei is more likely to be literally dazzled by the bright lights of celebrity at the London showpiece than he is metaphorically.

He is happy at the prospect of competing at the same event as some of the world's most famous athletes, not to mention being part of the same tour party as his nation's leading footballers.

He is not picky about which star he wants to get his picture taken with first. "All of them," he said. "So long as it is without flash."

For the past year, Al Derei has been battling a condition with his eyesight which is affected by bright light, the sun and flashing camera bulbs.

He wears wraparound sunglasses – not for fashion but necessity – even indoors, until the moment he changes in to his judogi.

On first impression, he seems timid, and surely too diminutive for such a rough and tumble sport. However, he is clearly lacking in fear.

His idol in the sport is Keiji Suzuki, a Japanese master who is known for punching way above his weight in the top division of the sport.

The idea of the little guy overcoming substantial obstacles neatly fits the challenge facing Al Derei at the Excel Arena. He qualified for this event by finishing seventh on the basis of one victory at a competition in France last year.

He know he is up against it, but he does not care. "You are competing with the best players in judo, against people who have been to world championships," Al Derei said.

"When I am competing against my opponent, I will not think of him as a world champion or anything like that. For now, he is like me.

"By the time the Brazil Olympics comes around, they will not talk about that. They will have forgotten about the London Olympics."

In a neat quirk of symmetry, it was also Ramadan when Al Derei qualified for the Games via the competition in France last year. He opted not to fast then, and has chosen the same approach this time around, on account of the physical exertion required for a five-minute judo match.

He does not appear to be overawed by the task facing him this morning, and neither should he be, according to his coach, Timur Mokhamed Khanov, who says he is impressed by the work his charge has put in to reach this point.

"This is the Olympics and it is so much bigger than any other competition for judo because it is part of such a big event," said Khanov, who coached the Kuwait national team for three years before arriving in Abu Dhabi last year.

"Humaid has worked very hard to be able to get here. He has trained every morning and every afternoon."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Published: July 28, 2012 04:00 AM

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