UAE Special Olympics athletes win first gold and silver medals of the Games at triathlon

Brothers Micah and Jonah Hambleton came first and second place, respectively, in the triathlon on Friday

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The UAE’s Special Olympic team has earned its first gold and silver medals after two brothers became the first athletes in their division to cross the finish line.

Micah Hambleton and his brother, Jonah, both 16 and adopted, were among the 33 Special Olympic athletes from 13 countries to take part in the first World Games sporting event, at Yas Marina Circuit on Friday.

Micah was first to cross the finish line, a little after 11am, after having completed the 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre cycle, and 5km run in one hour and 14 minutes to earn his first gold medal.

His brother was not too far behind, with the pair securing two out of the three medals for their category, Division 1.

“Winning gold in the first competition of the Games feels absolutely incredible. I have never felt more proud than I did going over the finish line and representing the UAE,” said Micah.

“I have been training really hard ahead of the competition and I thought I would do well but winning is a dream come true. I hope this will inspire more people of determination to get involved in sports and show the world just how successful we can be.”

Jonah said he has been training every day for nine months in preparation for the Games and gave it everything he had on Friday.

"Today I just went super," he said. "I finally completed my goals and was able to make UAE proud."

He said the hardest part, however, was the run at the tail end of the triathlon.

“It was super-hot, the sun was in my eyes and my legs started to hurt but I was able to finish it without having to slow down.

"I fought the pain, I wasn’t thinking," he said.

The Hambleton family will be well represented at the Games, with two more brothers set to compete in the open swim on March 16 in Dubai.

The four athletes have been training together daily, from 5am, under the supervision of their mother, Cassie Hambleton.

"I feel I'm going wake up and feel like did this really happen?" she said of her son’s victories.

"Right now it just feels like a dream, it doesn't seem real."

With minutes to go before the triathlon began at 10am, dozens of athletes with intellectual disabilities made their way to the starting line amidst cheers and whistles from the crowd.

Coaches and team mates called out words of encouragement and last minute tips to the athletes.

One coach gestured from the terrace to his athlete, gesturing to remind him of his free-style swimming techniques.

Another coach threw his athlete a pair of goggles just seconds before they were due to plunge into the cold water.

For members of the Moroccan team, the race involved some last minute unexpected planning.

Huddled in a circle, Hudayfa Mohammed, 22, listened closely as his coach drew lines in the sand demonstrating the path from the swimming area, to where he had to pick up his bike and cycle and finally where it connected to the running track.

A misunderstanding meant that only one of the three athletes on the team would be able to compete.

"We thought all three could join the race, where one swims, and the second cycles and the third runs. That's how we did it in Morocco," said the team's coach Abdulazeez Bisbis.

Mr Mohammed had to finish the entire race himself for the first time on Friday, adding pressure to win on behalf of his teammates who cheered him on and followed his every step.

Their efforts were not in vain when he became one of the first athletes to cross the finish line - after one hour 17 minutes.

"I feel I have made my fellow Arabs proud," he said, upon making it past the finish line.

Diego Olaso, coach for the Uruguay national team, was confident his athletes would walk away with one at least gold medal.

He has been training his athletes Ezequiel Damasedno, 16, Axel Pastorino, 15, and Gonzalo Pastorino, 13, for the past six months in preparation for the triathlon.

"Ezequiel began swimming at a young age and he participated in the last World Games in Los Angeles where he won the gold medal in his time range category," Mr Olaso said.

And on Friday, Ezequiel did not disappoint, taking home the gold medal for his division with Axel and Gonzalo each winning silver medals for Uruguay too.


Special Olympics athletes arrive in Abu Dhabi