The strides taken by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation's youth programme will be on full display at the 2018 Asian Games with a women's team made up entirely of teenagers.
At 18, Wadima Al Yafei is the oldest in the squad with Bashayer Al Matrooshi and Hessa Al Shamsi - both 17 - and Mahra Al Hanaei, 16, completing the quartet. Al Yafei and Al Hanaei compete in the 49-kilogram division while Al Matrooshi and Al Shamsi are entered in the 62kg weight class.
All four have designs on returning from the Jakarta-Palembang with medals hanging around their necks.
“We have been in a camp in Abu Dhabi preparing for the Games since July 6. We have done our best to be in the best shape, and are confident and ready for the competition,” Al Yafei said.
Al Yafei created history in 2016 by becoming the first Emirati female to win a medal at a senior international event when winning bronze at the Asian Beach Games in Vietnam.
She failed to replicate that performance at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, just under 12 months ago. She accepts the standard of competition will be raised significantly at the Asian Games but is determined to challenge for a podium finish.
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“There are no guarantee of success in any sports,” said Al Yafei who also was awarded the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Award for the Emirati Sportswoman of the Year in the juvenile category in Dubai last December.
“I did my best at Ashgabat but couldn’t reach the medal rounds. The bar will be definitely raised at the Asian Games but so have I. I always believe in myself.
“I want to set goals and achieve them, whether it be in sports or objectives in life. The success I have had earlier has only motivated me more.”
Al four are from the Al Ain Club and share a close bond. They were also teammates for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Al Matrooshi was the only one to win a medal in Ashgabat but Al Shamsi said they are better prepared for Jakarta.
“Our inexperience was the reason we couldn’t reach the medal rounds, but now I see a complete turnaround,” she said.
“We are super-ready for Jakarta. We went through a good camp, perhaps, the toughest training we have had.
“At one point, we had to go through 20 fights non-stop. That was one of the hardest days of the camp. All that has done us a world of good. It has built a lot of confidence within us.
“Now we just need to go out there and deliver. Obviously there is a lot of pressure on us as the UAE are considered to be one of the leading Asian nations in jiu-jitsu. We need to live up to that reputation and we are ready to do it.”
The quartet are not only after medals but aspire to be role models for Emirati women.
Al Yafei, a first-year engineering student at the UAE University in Al Ain, harbours ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur and starting her own jiu-jitsu academy. Al Hanaei wants to pursue a career as a medical doctor while Al Matrooshi aims to become a fighter pilot and Al Shamsi a diplomat.
But it is through her achievements on the jiu-jitsu mat that Al Yafei aims to be a role model for young Emirati girls.
“That’s the best way forward to the Emirati women,” she said. “For me, my parents have been my biggest fans. They have always stood behind me, supported me in what I want to do.”
For the time being the quartet are focused on the job at hand, which is to win medals for their country in the two-week long continental spectacle in Jakarta-Palembang.
“It’s an honour to be selected for the jiu-jitsu women’s national team and we are really proud to be part of the Asian Games squad,” Al Yafei said.