Saeed is our best chance of a medal: UAE's Shaikh Ahmad

Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012    



Former double trap Olympic champion tips shooter to bring home glory

Dubai: Until he was 34, Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum happy playing squash, winning several national titles into the bargain. But in March 1997, all that changed as he took it upon himself to single-handedly pursue the UAE’s dream of Olympic glory.

After moving onto the international stage with an accomplished background in shooting — thanks to going on several hunting expeditions since his childhood — Shaikh Ahmad failed persistently to win any International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) competitions.

Success came slowly, but surely, and it was at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games where his moment of glory finally arrived.

He achieved the unthinkable — winning the UAE’s first and only Olympic gold medal.

Eight years and a couple of Olympics down the line, the UAE are still waiting for an athlete to match Shaikh Ahmad’s double-trap shooting gold.

In a hard-hitting interview, in which he blasted UAE sports officials for taking the credit for athletes’ success, Shaikh Ahmad gave Gulf News his opinion on the possibility of a second Olympic champion emerging.

How do you respond to the fact that three UAE shooters, Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum (skeet); Shaikh Juma Bin Dalmook Al Maktoum (double trap); and Daher Al Aryani (trap) will be trying to win medals at the London Olympics?

To see three shooters from one country qualify for an Olympic Games has been the culmination of a long journey for the sport here without a doubt.

However, I would go back in time and still observe that very little has changed as far as the attitude and thinking of the sports officials here is concerned. Whatever success has come has been due to the hard work and commitment of the sportsmen who have been showing an increasing degree of professionalism both and off the field.

But sadly, this is not the case with the officials who are in charge of sports here.

Why do you say this, especially at a time when the UAE has as many as eight athletes who have rightfully qualified to compete in London?

As I mentioned earlier, it is the athletes who have qualified, and simply due of the hard work they have put in. How can the officials, be it from the UAE National Olympic Committee (UAE NOC) or from the respective associations, take credit for the hard work of an athlete?

Of course, the officials can do their planning, as it is their duty, but ultimately it is the athlete who has to do all the hard work and ensure he or she delivers on the highest stage. Simply talking about achievements is not going to bring in glory to the country.

I will give you just one example: I am supposed to leave for London with Shaikh Juma on Sunday, and until today we are yet to receive the official kit from the UAE NOC. Need I say anything more?

What are the prospects of the three UAE shooters?

I think our best bet for a second Olympic medal will be Shaikh Saeed in the skeet. And still, I would only give him a 50-50 chance. He has the experience and the achievements on the highest stage to deliver once again.

I don’t envisage the other two shooters, Shaikh Juma or Daher, doing well.

But much is being said about the UAE shooters returning with at least one medal?

It is not the athletes who are talking here. It is the officials, and honestly, these officials don’t know what they are talking about.

They need to be realistic before making such statements. Anyway, what have they done to exude such confidence in the UAE athletes?

Why don’t you give them a chance?

I speak here from experience. When you compete at the highest level, it is a question of being consistent. We need to go by the facts, as facts don’t lie.

Look at the results of our three shooters for the past three years only and you will see who has been consistent.

This is the best indicator to see where each of the three is at as they prepare to compete in London.

I can speak for Shaikh Juma as I am his mentor. With the scores he has been shooting, he can either be in the top six or in the bottom six. It’s just a matter of how he manages to handle the pressure during the competition.

Is that not where you step in with all the experience you have as a shooter, a man who has been there and done it all?

Oh yes, if you ask me this is where my job starts. I cannot be on the range shooting on his behalf or telling him what to do when the competition is on. Technically, I have given him [Shaikh Juma] what he needs to be successful.

It took me many years of hard work and dedication to reach this stage. Now it is up to him.

How is he responding? What would you say about his chances in London?

Mastering the technique I am teaching him is not going to be an easy thing for Shaikh Juma. He’s trying 100 per cent, but I do not expect him to fulfil his potential 100 per cent simply because he does not have the experience to perform at such a high level.

I know he will be nervous. My advice to him would be to do his best from the start. If he can be among the top three at the end of the first round, then he can carry forward that confidence. He has to make a solid start.

It’s not going to be easy, but if he does do that, then he stands a chance of winning a medal.

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