UAE at Rio 2016: Sheikh Saeed, Khaled Al Kaabi and Saif Bin Futtais shooting for the podium

As part of our ongoing series on the UAE athletes taking part in the Olympics, Ahmed Rizvi focuses on the three shooters, who are likely to represent the nation's best medal hopes.
Saif Bin Futtais. (Courtesy Aletihad)
Saif Bin Futtais. (Courtesy Aletihad)

It is a golden moment in UAE sporting history.

The sight of Sheikh Ahmed Hasher Al Maktoum at the top of the podium in 2004, with the Athens Olympic Games’ double trap shooting gold medal around his neck, his eyes welling with emotion and pride as the UAE national anthem played in the background, is hard to forget.

On his return, Al Maktoum received a welcome befitting the young country’s first Olympic gold medal winner. To date, though, that is the only medal, of any hue, UAE has won in eight visits to the Olympic Games since Los Angeles 1984.

This summer in Rio, however, the country could make an addition to their Olympic collection and, unsurprisingly, their biggest hopes are the three shooters in the 13-member UAE squad — Khaled Al Kaabi, Saif Bin Futtais, and the veteran Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum.

More from Rio 2016:

• Meet the team: Profiles on all 13 athletes representing the UAE at the Rio Olympic Games

• TV schedule: Full Olympic schedule and channel listing in UAE time

• Yousif Mirza: UAE’s cycling star: Ready to fulfil his Olympic dream and carry the flag for UAE cycling

Two of them — Sheikh Saeed and Bin Futtais — have won medals at World Cup level. Sheikh Saeed, who will be making his fifth consecutive appearance at the Olympics, won the skeet gold at the 2011 World Cup in Al Ain and a silver in Seoul in 2001, while Bin Futtais, winner of the skeet bronze in Acapulco in 2013, took gold two years later in Larnaca, Cyprus, to clinch a spot for the UAE at the Olympic Games.

Bin Futtais also won skeet gold at the Asia Olympic Qualifying Competition in New Delhi earlier this year, and at the same tournament, Al Kaabi took gold in the double trap event, defeating Kuwaiti veteran Fehaid Al Deehani — a bronze medal winner at the 2010 and 2012 Olympics — in the final.

The UAE shooting trio, then, are a proven lot and under the guidance of Sheikh Ahmed, the UAE’s lone Olympic champion, their credentials of winning an Olympic medal seem even better.

At the 2012 London Olympic Games, Sheikh Ahmed’s protégé Peter Wilson won the double trap gold and Al Kaabi, who took up the sport less than three years ago, is hoping to keep that trend going in the same double trap event.

“This is my first Olympic Games,” said the Abu Dhabi Police First Warrant Officer, who has been training in Brazil along with his two UAE teammates since July 24 in a bid to get acclimatised to the conditions in Rio. “I believe there is no pressure on me as I am not expected to win a medal on my debut.

“So my focus will be on performance, and not on winning a medal or finishing on the podium. If I can keep it simple, focus on just my performance and not on the performance of those around me, stay calm and keep the nerves away, I think I can put up a good show.”

A good show could mean a medal, and not many people will be surprised if Al Kaabi does eventually end up on the podium. For, as Bin Futtais said, shooting is probably the only sport where the UAE are on the same level as the world’s best.

“We have sacrificed a lot in this journey to the Rio Olympics,” said Bin Futtais, who was an ace jet ski pilot before he switched to shooting, with Sheikh Saeed being his mentor. “We spent long periods of time away from our families, travelling for tournaments and camps.

“Now, our focus is doing the best we can to make the country proud. Of course, nobody can promise a medal because winning an Olympic medal depends on so many things. But what I can promise the UAE sports fans is I will do my best in Rio, represent my country to the fullest of my abilities, irrespective of whether I win a medal or not.

“The most important thing for me will be to make sure I return from Rio knowing I have done by best as a representative of the UAE. I hope to make the fans proud.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

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Published: August 2, 2016 04:00 AM

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