The UAE jiu-jitsu national team were given a hero’s welcome and greeted by cheering fans, their families and officials from the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation on arrival at the Dubai International Airport on Wednesday.
The team topped the jiu-jitsu medals table with four golds, four silvers and seven bronze from 14 finals at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Faisal Al Ketbi was the top performer in the competition, underlining his status as the leading player on the continent by winning gold in both his 94-kilogram weight and the absolute division.
While the UAE’s dominance was expected, the success on the big stage of the team’s younger members, who accounted for one gold, two silvers and four bronze, has provided an additional reason to celebrate.
“We always looked to them as our future but their performances in Ashgabat means we now have them ready earlier than expected,” Al Ketbi said.
The men’s team included two teenagers and four members under the age of 22 in the 16-strong squad.
Six of the seven members of the women’s team were aged between 16 and 17.
Omar Al Fadhli, the youngest member of the men’s team at 17, led the future generation by clinching gold in the 56kg class.
Of the other youngsters, Zayed Al Mansoori returned with a silver, and Obaid Al Nuaimi and Said Al Mazroui took bronze.
In the women’s event, Emirati teenager Mouza Al Shamsi took silver, and Bashayer Al Matrooshi and Reem Abdulkareem both won bronze.
Al Fadhli was one of the teenagers who received a jiu-jitsu scholarship this summer and he confirmed he would pursue a career in professional jiu-jitsu.
“It’s a sport that I love to do,” he said. “I have competed in the adult division before but Ashgabat was a big step up. The experience has given me more confidence.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being on the podium at Ashgabat but I don’t want this success to go into my head. It’s the beginning of my career and it means more hard work ahead.”
Roberto Lima, the team’s Brazilian coach, said the success at Ashgabat was ideal preparation for the team’s next assignment.
“We used the Asian Beach Games and the Asian Championship as part of our preparation to assemble the best team for Ashgabat, which was our main goal for 2017,” he said.
“We have a two week break and then begin preparing for the Worlds in Colombia in November. As far as our objectives on the continental competitions, we have achieved our objectives.”
Yousef Al Blooshi, the team manager and technical director of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, kept faith in the youngsters.
“I had no doubt in my mind that they are more adaptable to the high technical skills that jiu-jitsu demands,” he said.
“These youngsters are trained by some of the best instructors and have had the benefit of competitions at a very young age. I feel more exciting times are ahead for UAE jiu-jitsu.”