Stepping on to the mat for a domestic competition, particularly at age group level, may not seem as challenging if you are an Asian Games medallist.
It turned out to be exactly the case for Mahra Al Hanaei when she appeared at the Al Ain Under 18 Championship over the weekend. The silver medallist at Jakarta-Palembang 2018 overwhelmed two opponents by submission in the blue-belt, 57-kilogram division. Two others conceded walkovers.
Al Hanaei, 16, won her second domestic gold medal, following success at the Mother of The Nation Championship last month. It was also her first win since returning from the Asiad in August.
“From the outside, it looks pretty straightforward to return with a gold in a domestic competition, especially after winning a silver at the Asian Games," Al Hanaei said after beating Hend Al Hammadi in the final. "But it’s not so easy as it appeared to be."
Al Hanaei says she usually looks forward than back when she prepares for a fight.
"You never know what’s around the corner when you face an opponent," she pointed out. "I have a lot to lose than win at this level.”
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Al Hanaei believes domestic competitions are absolutely crucial for her to stay in shape and match-ready for major championships.
“You never know the kind of opponents you may come across,” she said. “Every contest is a challenge. There are always elements of surprises in every fight.”
The competition, held over two days in the Garden City, drew more than 1,000 competitors from across the country and overseas.
Malak Jassim won gold in the 40kg category despite being a first-time participant.
“I was scared before entering the competition," Jassim said, "but once I started, I felt courage and strength.
“This is pushing me forward, and I am looking to improve my skills and participate in more upcoming tournaments.”
Al Ain club dominated the boys' draw after clocking 1,733 points, 34 gold, 21 slivers, and 22 bronze medals. They edged Al Wahda (1,634 points, 22 gold, 28 silver and 29 bronze) and Ajman (1,269, 8 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze).