UAE at Rio 2016: Nada Al Bedwawi ready for ‘greatest privilege’ as flag-bearer

Nada Al Bedwawi says he is 'already imagining what it will be like' when she carries the UAE flag into the opening ceremonies for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

UAE Olympic swimmer Nada Al Bedwawi. Photo Courtesy: WAM
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RIO DE JANEIRO // Emirati swimmer Nada Al Bedwawi says there is no greater honour in the world for an athlete as she prepares to lead the UAE into the Maracana stadium at the 2016 Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The 18-year-old learned she would be going to Brazil only four weeks ago when she was handed a wildcard to contest the 50-metre freestyle race. She was then given another surprise last week when, while surfing Facebook, she discovered the National Olympic Committee had selected her to be flag-bearer for the curtain-raiser in Rio, which will start at 2.45am in the UAE on Saturday morning. The event is expected to be watched by three billion people.

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"I was sitting in my room scrolling through Facebook and then, like two seconds later, my mum called me and was like 'Nada, you're going to be the flag-bearer!'," Al Bedwawi told The National from inside the Olympic Village. "I was really shocked; I never thought they would give me the honour. I am already imagining what it will be like. It is the greatest privilege any athlete can be given from their country. It is such a rare opportunity."

Al Bedwawi, one of 13 athletes representing the UAE this month, will be only the second female flag-bearer in the Emirates’ 32-year Olympic history. She follows in the footsteps of Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid, who led the country at the opening ceremony in Beijing eight years ago as a taekwondo competitor.

Last August, Al Bedwawi — alongside Alia Al Shamsi — became the first Emirati female to represent the UAE at swimming’s World Championships when she competed in the 100m backstroke. Now, when she enters the pool for her heat on August 12, she will make history once more, becoming the first female swimmer to represent the Emirates at an Olympic Games.

“I feel both nervous and excited,” she added. “I am really nervous about actually going to the event, but I will do my best and feel like I am going to do well. I am confident.”

Expectations though must be tempered; a medal is unrealistic. Yet the biology student at NYU Abu Dhabi can bring to the UAE something more substantial than a metal pendant. Alongside Yaqoub Al Saadi, she is one of just two swimmers in the Emirates’ delegation and intends to help change the image of the sport in the country — and with it change the country’s medal prospects.

“I’ve came here to Rio and I see all the other swimming teams and they all have a lot of athletes, but for us we are only two,” she said. “When it comes to the UAE, maybe we still see swimming a little bit different culturally, so I am trying to break down barriers and pave the way for other Emirati swimmers. Hopefully we can come back in four years or eight years with a lot more swimmers.”

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