Sights set on the gold

Form, weather, conditions...Sheikh Saeed tells Ahmed Rizvi he has left these worries behind as he aims for the ultimate target.

Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum admits the Beijing smog and the background of mountains and trees at the venue will make the task of getting a gold medal even more difficult.
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Form, weather, conditions... Sheikh Saeed tells Ahmed Rizvi he has left these worries behind as he aims for the ultimate target "We believe in God," said Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum as he talked about his chances at the Beijing Olympics. "If he has destined something for me, no one can take it away." These words perfectly describe Sheikh Saeed's affable personality: simple, deeply religious with a monk-like demeanour. But there is more to the 32-year-old son of the late Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid.

Sheikh Saeed has worked hard at his sport, spending hours under the sun at the shooting ranges in Dubai and around the world as he prepares for the Beijing Olympics. He is determined to bring back a skeet shooting medal for the UAE. And his toil has not gone unnoticed. "Sheikh Saeed is training the hardest I have seen him," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher, the 2004 Athens Olympic double trap champion who is also in Beijing to defend his crown.

"In practice, he is shooting the highest scores I have seen among the world shooters. "He trains 5-15 rounds a day. I can guarantee you that no one in the world trains as hard as him. "I hope he can take this form into the Olympics. If he can score his average, he will surely win a medal." Sheikh Saeed, who represented the UAE at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games, is confident he can do that and add an Olympic medal to the numerous titles he has won across the world.

"This is the third Olympics for me and I am now in my best form," said the former Asian champion, who had won the title in New Delhi in 2003 with 148 out of 150 after a perfect 125 in the qualifying phase. "I did very well during the recent Asian Championship in Kuwait and feel I have every chance to improve at the Olympics. I hope to do my country proud." Sheikh Saeed, who had to settle for silver at the 2006 Asian Games after a shoot-off with Kuwait's Saleh al Muttairi for gold. He qualified for the Olympics with a bronze at the 11th Asian Championships in Kuwait last December, finishing behind Abdulla al Rashidi (Kuwait) and Ridong Qu of China. Since then, he has shown great form at different international events.

At the Asian Clay Shooting Championship in India earlier this year, he looked set to win the gold until a lapse in the final round saw him miss three 'birds' in quick succession. But he did bounce back to win gold at the OASES Grand Prix at the same venue in Jaipur, a couple of days later. His form dipped a little at the 2008 ISSF World Cup in Beijing in April, but Sheikh Saeed has put that disappointment behind him.

"I have confidence in my abilities," said the father of five, who has been competing in the sport since 1999. "I have had a very good preparation and I hope to a win a medal. "Having said that, all the shooters here have come well prepared. Each one of them is good enough to win a medal. They all know how to win. "It is not going to be easy with the world's top 32 skeet shooters lining up for honours. I have to stay focused and keep myself motivated. It will be a good test for me in handling the pressure."

Ahmad Nasser al Raisi, the chairman of the UAE Shooting Federation, agreed with Sheikh Saeed. "The road to the gold is not paved with roses," he said. "We expect a very stiff competition for shooting titles, but we are confident that our marksmen (Sheikh Saeed and Sheikh Ahmad) will achieve excellent results." Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the general secretary of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare (GAYSW), also has high hopes from Sheikh Saeed. But he is concerned about the pollution in Beijing, which reduces visibility.

"We have great hopes from Sheikh Saeed," said Malik. "But in shooting you can never predict. All those who have qualified are good enough to win a medal. "Results depend on luck, the surroundings, the backgrounds and the time of the competition. These things make a lot of difference because every shooter has his own preferences. "The one thing that I am worried about is the pollution in Beijing. It will not help us. The pollution reduces the visibility and the clarity is not very great. That affects the shooters. I hope the weather will improve and the pollution situation will get better.

"Lucky will also be crucial. If you are lucky and good enough, it is always helpful. Having said that, we have a big hope from shooting. Both Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Saeed are big shooters. They are big names around the world and among the best in the sport. "It will all come down to how it goes in the competition itself. But I hope they will have a good result." Sheikh Saeed admits he is finding it difficult with the Beijing smog, and the mountains and trees in the background at the Olympic shooting range.

"Our shooting range is very flat," he says. "But we cannot decide the nature of the weather and the backgrounds. I am here representing my country and I am determined to have the UAE national anthem playing at the medals ceremony." @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae