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The Olympic hopefuls

15 Oct 2019

For a country like Oman, its history at the Olympic Games can be flipped through few pages since it made its debut at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

The historic qualification of athlete Mohammed Amour al Malki into the 400m final at the 1988 Seoul Games still remains to be the most glorious chapter of the sultanate’s sporting history, a feat that has yet to be matched till date. And then two decades later, Oman fielded its first woman athlete when Buthaina al Yaqoubi competed in the 100m event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Now, nearly more than a decade after, Oman sports can look forward to another 

path-breaking chapter if the self-driven duo of Musab al Hadi and Waleed al Kindi can qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in March next year.

The pair is competing in the 49er men’s competition and is among the favourites to clinch the Asian qualification spot when the continental qualifiers will be held during the 2019 Asian Sailing Championships (RS:X, Laser, Laser Radial and 49er classes) in Abu Dhabi in the UAE next March.

Prior to that, the duo, who missed a historic medal at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games by a whisker, will be in action at the 49er and 49erFX (women) Asian Championships in Abu Dhabi from November 4-9.

And their journey for the historic and maiden qualification into the 2020 Tokyo Games will be put to further test when the pair competes at the 2019 49er World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand, from November 29-December 4.

Never before has Oman qualified in any sailing event. The only instance of an Omani sailor at the Games was in 1984 when Talib al Mawali, an Omani based in US then, took part on an invitation from the IOC, in the  windglider event in Los Angeles.

Sailing as a sport took an altogether new dimension when Oman Sail was established in 2009 with one of the key aims at its inception being to have an Omani sailor make it to the Olympic Games on merit.

David Graham, Oman Sail CEO, says, “When we started in 2009, Oman Sail’s foundation was based on three principles – sport, tourism and commercial – along with people’s development [read Omanisation]. Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and Oman Sail in the past decade has been pursuing its aim to have an Omani sailor at the Games. We are now on the brink of this milestone and what better time it could come than after just ten years of existence.

“This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for – the one where we can see our Olympic dream turn into a reality.”

Graham said the duo’s commitment and dedication over the past few years has been extraordinary and despite coming from diverse backgrounds, both Musab and Waleed have gelled like ‘fish to water’ and made us ‘believe that the time has come for Oman to break into Olympic sailing fold on merit’.

“The mission began during the run-off for Rio Olympic Games in 2016 but Waleed, who was then our main hope in the RS:X windsurfing class, stumbled due to fitness issues while Musab and Hashim al Rashdi, who were in 49er class, couldn’t succeed as Hashim got injured,” recalled Graham.

That Oman Sail was eyeing an Olympic spot in Rio was not known to many but the setback only made the resolve grow stronger for the organisation and its sailors.

“It was after the 2016 attempt that I and Waleed came together and found that we had a common dream – Olympic qualification. I was already with 49er class but for Waleed to switch from RS:X into 49er was a challenge. But we stitched a bond to an extent that we were close to getting first sailing medal at the Asian Games last year when he missed the bronze on countback with India,” said Hadi, who has been with Oman Sail since the start.

The 30 year old sailor has featured in many classes and was also part of the Extreme Sailing Series but it is 49er where he has shown promise since 2014.

Graham says, “I am not a great believer in natural talent. Nurture than nature is what I am a votary for and having closely seen Musab and Waleed put in the sheer amount of work, my hopes are high.

“Waleed’s switch and his ability to excel from RS:X to the present class is exceptional. He has been amazing and since 2016 the pair has performed admirably at various regattas to give us the hope of what Oman Sail is looking for the past many decades.”

“We are just a step away from the elusive spot, which will be decided in March. If they succeed, which I am very confident, Oman Sail will climb to the next level. Given their recent performances and the intensive programme they are into, I am ready to put my money on them.”

Ironically, three years ago, it was in Abu Dhabi itself where Kindi and Hadi had missed the bus for Rio Olympics. But, the pair now ooze confidence as they look to join a rare tribe of trailblazers who know that sometimes to be the first is harder than just coming first. 

Lesser mortals would have succumbed to the negativity that pervades Oman sports but Hadi and Kindi have overcome it to a large extent, thanks to the support from Oman Sail, family members and friends with a positive attitude. The pair has pursued their goal with hard work forthe past three years. 

As Hadi puts it, “We are confident that we will qualify for Tokyo. But, just, in case, if we don’t, then it is definitely not the end of the world. Oman Sail and our team have put in a programme till 2024 Olympics in Paris. And the aim is not just qualification but be on podium be it 2024 or 2028. The dream is on.”

India and Thailand teams are expected to provide the biggest threat to the duo’s dream in Abu Dhabi but Kindi said, “Our programme is intensive and strenuous under French coach Gwenael Gbick for the past few years. 

“We will also have double British 49er Olympian Stevie Morrison providing tips to us next month. His valuable inputs will help us during the Asian and worlds campaign that will set us up for the March Qualifier.”

Both the sailors have been putting nearly five hours daily of training off shore and on water, weather permitting, and say that it’s the trust and belief in each other that makes them a formidable pair.

“The chemistry between us has been the key. We are under no pressure as we know that we are working hard and success will come sooner or later,” said Kindi, 28, the younger of the pair.

Oman Sail’s acting director of sailing Rashid al Kindi has been closely following the progress and said that ‘Oman has never been so close to the elusive Olympic berth’. 

“The pair is determined to carry the hopes of the whole nation and make history next March. The two Olympic hopefuls are our best bet though we have another pair in 49er – 

Abdulrehman al Mashari and Ahmed al Hasani along with Hussain al Jabri in Laser Radial – also making attempt in the Qualifiers. 

With five months left for the Olympic Qualifiers, the poise and confidence with which Hadi and Kindi spoke give enough hints that they would accomplish their goal and write a new chapter in Oman’s Olympic history.  Come March, when the duo achieves it, belief will come in. All the best!   

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