UAE hopes China plays its anthem many times

The country has sent its biggest contingent, 99 athletes, to the Asian Games and with 18 sports, officials are optimistic that the country can take home a decent medal haul.

Ahmed al Kamali would be pleased if the UAE national anthem becomes a familiar tune in Guangzhou, China in the coming weeks.

The country has sent its biggest contingent, 99 athletes, to the Asian Games there, and the chief of the UAE Athletics Federation hopes the team can improve on their medal haul of three gold, four silver and three bronze from the Doha Games four years ago.

The 16th Asian Games open today, with a record 9,704 competitors - 184 more than were at the Doha Games four years ago - taking part in 54 sports across 15 days.

The UAE contingent will compete in 18 sports, and officials are optimistic that more medals are in the offing.

The country's billiards and snooker, chess, cycling, judo, shooting, swimming and table tennis representatives go into action from tomorrow.

The 13-member track and field squad must wait until November 21 to begin competition. They are still training in Malaysia and will arrive in Guangzhou on Sunday without Ali Obaid Shirook, who was forced to pull out yesterday due to a knee injury. He was to have taken part in three races - the 400m, 400m hurdles and the 4x400m relay.

"Obaid's withdrawl is really disappointing news," al Kamali said. "He also got injured during the World Championships last year.

"But we still have a lot of hope. I expect to reach the final round of at least eight events and once we are in the final, it is a matter of luck. That's the nature of sport. So our main target is to reach the final.

"I am optimistic because the team has prepared well. We started our preparations really early and they have been training together now for about four months. So the preparation has been good."

Al Kamali said the athletics competition is particularly stiff because so many countries take part, "not like shooting, where there are eight or nine countries because it is a costly sport".

He added: "In athletics, you just need a shoe and run. So most of the countries participate in track and field events; about 45 or 46 countries are taking part."

UAE fans will be hoping to see Omar Jumaa al Salfa, the 2008 Asian Junior 200m champion, on the podium. Mohammed Abbas Darwish, the triple-jumper, also faces expectations; he won the country's lone gold medal at the West Asian Championships in September.

"Yes, we have a lot of hopes from these two boys but we don't want to put them under pressure," said al Kamali.

"Omar is completely focused. The event will not be very easy for him because there are the Japanese and some new Qataris, a Nigerian who has just been given citizenship.

"But he has prepared really well. So, fingers crossed."