UAE’s golden girls Alia Saeed and Bethlem Desaleyn take aim at 5,000m stardom

The pair want to be an inspiration to women in the Emirates as a UAE double of medals in the 5,000m in South Korea on Thursday would certainly further their case, writes Paul Radley.

UAE track runners Alia Saeed, right, and Bethlem Desaleyn are good friends but will compete against one another in the 5,000m final at the Asian Games on Thursday. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous
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Roommates, training partners, aspiring UAE athletics idols and now, for the first time, genuine rivals for medals on the big stage.

Life has moved on apace for Alia Saeed and Bethlem Desaleyn. The first time they registered on the consciousness of the nation’s sporting public was when they were attempting to make it to the London Olympics of 2012. Desaleyn did, Saeed did not.

Now both are golden girls – Desaleyn at the Asian Athletics Championships in Pune last year, Saeed last week when she took gold in the Asian Games 10,000 metres in Incheon.

The pair want to be an inspiration to women in the UAE – working mums, stay-at-home mums and anybody else – to take up athletics.

It might take a little bit more work, given the low profile of the sport here, but they have made a promising start, and a UAE double of medals in the 5,000m in South Korea on Thursday would certainly further their case.

“I think we are competitive during a race, you must be,” Desaleyn has said in the past about her relationship with her Ethiopia-born colleague. “But after the race everything is good. It is always nice to feel comfortable with your roommate and we understand each other’s schedule.”

The close friends might have to work together to reach the top of the podium again today. Desaleyn has the second-fastest personal best in the field behind Bahrain’s Mimi Belete – who is looking to retain the title she won four years ago.

Saeed’s personal best is some way further back on those two, yet she is the form distance athlete in the field, having won gold at double the distance last week.

pradley@thenational.ae

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