Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there
In 2005, ice skating in the desert was unheard of – until Noemi Bedo axled her way onto Abu Dhabi ice and made history in the process.
Within a few years, the former youth Olympian and World Championship competitor had formed Abu Dhabi’s first figure skating team and was the main driving force for the UAE joining the International Skating Union.
Bedo, 42, from Romania, joined Zayed Sports City as an ice-skating coach, going on to train Zahra Lari, who was the UAE’s first international competitor and the first woman to compete in figure skating wearing a hijab.
Today, in her role as facilities manager she organises world-class events, plans international competitions and coaches the most promising skaters in the UAE.
She invited The National onto the ice to talk tournaments, talents and taking the odd tumble.
Why did you decide to become an ice-skating coach?
I started figure skating when I was six and after the first class I went home and told my parents that I wanted to be a figure skating coach.
Sport has been my life and I’ve competed internationally in the European Championships, the World Championships and the 1990 Winter Youth Olympics.
Seeing the Olympic flame and taking part in the walkaround was an incredible experience and I learnt a lot from it.
In Romania, I coached the junior national team for two years and I dived straight into the middle of all the teenage drama.
I went in very strong but that did not go very well, so I adapted to more of a collaborative style and that worked better.
What does your job involve?
I’ve been working at Zayed Sports City for 23 years and there has been a lot of change over that time.
I started purely as a figure skating coach but over the years my duties expanded to include the development of programmes, logistics, finances and team management.
Skating in the desert is very unique and in the past 15 years the sport has grown so much. When I first arrived, I remember receiving inquiries for lessons on pieces of paper and sometimes I couldn't accommodate them all.
I started to develop a skating programme and then created the first Abu Dhabi figure skating team. We went on to have sell-out shows with more than 80 skaters and everything just started to take off.
What might surprise people about your role?
I don't like the cold at all – that’s why I’m in the UAE. I'm probably the only happy person during summer.
When I go on the ice, I will be wearing at least three layers and I’m always complaining about the air-conditioning. I just like the heat.
Another surprising thing about ice skating itself is its versatility, it really is a sport for everyone.
I once coached an entire family for a competition in Bangkok where they competed as the Addams family. We had mum, dad, three children aged six to 12 and even the 75-year-old grandmother.
What are some of the most exciting aspects?
I'll never forget the day that I met Zahra Lari. I was her first coach and seeing her progress and eventually become the first Emirati figure skater was amazing.
At her first competition in 2012 in Italy, she became the first figure skater to compete in a hijab, which caused a lot of controversy at the time.
Back then, we didn’t realise it would make such a big difference. Now I appreciate how important that was in changing the sport for women and establishing the UAE as part of the International Skating Union, which requires a competitor to represent their country.
Today, there are multiple clubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is fantastic and I’ve always got my eye out for the next big talent.
What are the most challenging parts?
Zayed Sports City has the only Olympic-sized ice rink in Abu Dhabi, and with the growing interest every year, to have just one space and be able to accommodate every request is a challenge.
It’s literally one space so we have to get very creative and find the balance so that everybody has access to ice. Sometimes we even split the ice and have multiple programmes running at once.
What was your most memorable skate?
I’ll never forget my worst fall. It was during a competition in Istanbul and I was doing the warm-up rounds.
I built up the maximum speed I could and then my toe pick caught and I went flying on my stomach from one side of the rink to the other.
The crowd let out a collective groan while I tried to style it out and pretend that nothing had happened.
Then when it was my turn to skate, the music didn’t start and the crowd started to clap because they felt so sorry for me. Somehow, I managed to win a bronze medal.
If you weren’t an ice skater, what would you be doing?
That’s tough because I think this is it for me.
Sport makes such a difference in people's lives. Since Covid, there is so much focus and on sports because people realise how it makes them feel better.
Everyone is welcome on the ice, no matter what age or ability and we always see a lot of happy faces. I can’t imagine doing anything else.