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Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa is a sports writer with Gulf Times. He joined Gulf Times after having worked for more than 10 years with leading newspapers in India. Sahan misses covering cricket in Qatar but has adeptly channelized his talents towards tennis, football and Olympic sports.
Chinau2019s Ma Long (left) in action during his semi-final against Jeoung Youngsik of South Korea. Long won 4-0.
Sport
Long sets up all-Chinese title clash against Zhendong

The women’s final will be contested between Germany’s Han Ying and China’s Zhu Yuling Ma Long has been in a class of his own for some time now. The World No. 1 Chinese paddler has been dominating the table tennis circuit and yesterday in Doha he showed a glimpse of that. The Rio Olympic and world champion cruised into the final of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals after another commanding victory, a 4-0 (11-9, 11-8, 11-8, 14-12) rout of Jeoung Youngsik of South Korea, in the semi-finals. A little later, China’s Fan Zhendong beat compatriot Xu Xin 4-2 (11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9) to set up another all-Chinese title clash against Ma Long. No. 12 seed Youngsik has been the surprise element of the tournament so far, having defeated higher seeds Vladimir Samsonov and Chuang Chih-Yuan. But yesterday, the Korean was up against a different class of player in Mo Long, the top seed. To his credit Youngsik did put up a fight, but never looked like winning any of the first three games. With his back to the wall, Youngsik came out firing in the fourth set, even managing a game point. But Ma Long won the decisive moments in the game to seal the match. “I think both Jeoung and I played at a high level during the match tonight. I won four-nil but the score in all four games was very close. Today my handling of crucial points was also quite good and I think Jeoung played well,” said Ma Long. “He’s grown and improved a lot over the past two years. In the previous matches, he had to recover from two-nil down to win, so it shows that he has very strong skills and is very capable. Tonight I was in control of the match overall,” the defending champion added. For Zhendong though, it was a test of his temperament and fatigue. In the quarterfinals played in the afternoon, the Chinese No. 2 seed had recovered from a two-game deficit to beat Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the No. 8 seed, 4-2 (9-11, 10-12, 15-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5). Zhendong, however, showed little effect of that stressful match as he took the opening game in no time. Third seed Xu Xin won the second and fourth games, but Zhendong unleashed some spectacular shots to clinch the fifth and sixth games and close out the match. Xu Xin played some powerful forehand top spin returns, but Zhendong anticipated well and blocked every shot to leave his countryman stunned. In the quarters, Xu Xin had overpowered Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu, the No. 10 seed, in straight games (11-2, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4). The women’s final will be contested between Germany’s Han Ying and China’s Zhu Yuling. Both the paddlers snuffed out any chances off an all-Japanese final. Third seed Yuling beat second seed Kasumi Ishikawa, winner two years ago in Bangkok, 4-0 (16-14, 11-3, 11-8, 11-7). The highly-rated Miu Hirano was the other Japanese to bow out in the semis. The 16-year-old teen, seeded No. 10 here, lost to Germany’s Han Ying, the No. 11 seed, 0-4 (2-11, 4-11, 3-11, 5-11). Hirano had shocked World No. 6 and fourth seed Feng Tianwei of Singapore in the round of 16, but yesterday she had no answer to Ying’s defensive game. Ying relies more on technique, with the 33-year-old German possessing a solid backspin return. And Hirano’s aggressive approach fell flat against the experienced Ying. The two had met earlier this year in Kuwait, where Ying needed full seven games to secure victory. But yesterday Ying controlled the game from start, as Hirano committed plenty of unforced errors. “Today I had a good balance between attack and defence. I felt confident. Last time when we played in Kuwait, I won the first three games but then Hirano played much stronger. I was prepared for a tough match, I’m surprised that I won so easily,” a delighted Ying said. Hirano also seemed to suffering from fatigue, having arrived in Doha after playing the World Junior Championships last week. The other Japanese on the night, Ishikawa, was always going to struggle against Yuling, having just won once against the Chinese in eight attempts. The first game was a close affair, with Yuling employing defence and attack in equal measure. After Yuling managed to snatch the opener in 16-14, she cruised through the next three games to book her place in the final.

Zhu Yuling of China beat Chinese Taipeiu2019s Cheng I-Ching in the quarter-finals of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Yuling in pole position after Ning pullout; Ma Long cruises through

The women’s field at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals was thrown wide open after defending champion Ding Ning of China withdrew from the event in Doha yesterday. Ning was scheduled to play Germany’s Han Ying in the quarter-finals at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, but the world and Olympic champion was forced to pull out as she suffered from a high temperature. The absence of Ning very much opens up the top half of the draw, with Zhu Yuling, also of China, now the highest ranked player in the tournament. The world No. 4, who is in other half of the draw, yesterday sealed her spot in the semis. The 21-year-old is seeded third in Doha and the Chinese hopes firmly rest on her. Yuling, however, was given a stern test in the quarters by Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching before she won 4-2 (8-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7). The No. 6 seed Ching won the first two games but dropped her level, giving Yuling a chance to make a recovery. And the Chinese needed no second initiation as she won four games on the trot to clinch the match.    Ching is one of the most improved players on the circuit, having jumped from No.22 to No. 7 in the world rankings. Against Yuling, she unleashed her strong forehand game to take a 2-0 lead but Yuling made some tactical changes to make a comeback. “She made many changes after the second game; especially with her service. She served short and I made mistakes. I am pleased with my level but disappointed to lose,” said Ching. Yuling on the other hand was relieved to have got through. “It was a hard match having to come back from two-nil down. Ching played very well today, the scores were tight and even in the third game, I could only take the game after 10-10,” the Chinese said. “I think winning the silver medal at the World Cup definitely was a big step in her career; she’s more confident on court, more experienced and is able to handle crucial points better. One reason why I lost in the first two games was because I wasn’t executing my strategy as planned. After that I was thinking of those points and how I could play those points to my favour,” Yuling added. Meanwhile, Han Ying will play the winner of the quarter-final match between Japanese teen Miu Hirano and Hong Kong’s Tie Yana, which is scheduled for today afternoon. Yesterday, world No. 11 Hirano, the ninth seed in the tournament upset world No. 6 and fourth seed Feng Tianwei of Singapore in the round of 16. Tianwei made a bright start but eventually lost 3-4 (11-6, 11-4, 9-11, 6-11, 11-7, 5-11, 4-11) Tianwei was one of the fancied players in the tournament, having defeated Ding Ning in the Chinese Super League last weekend. The 30-year-old was expected to make a strong bid for the sport’s biggest prize but fizzled out against Hirano in the last two games. Tianwei, the 2010 champion, had come out firing in her match against the Japanese teenager, claiming the first two games 11-6, 11-4. But the 16-year-old proved to be no walkover, as she clawed back to win the next two games 11-9, 11-6. While Tianwei looked ready to claim victory after winning the fifth game (11-7), the veteran player could not fend off the challenge from her plucky young opponent, as Hirano turned on the heat to level the score at 3-3 before winning the seventh and final game 11-4. With her victory over three-time Olympic medallist Feng in Doha, Hirano looks set to cement her reputation as a player to watch out for in the future. In the last quarter-final today, Yang Haeun of South Korea will take on Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa.   Meanwhile, men’s defending champion Ma Long cruised into the semis yesterday. The Chinese was in supreme form as he dispatched Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong 4-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-6, 11-5). The World No. 1 Ma Long, also the Olympic champion in Rio, hardly put a foot wrong not even giving Chun Ting a sniff. Up next for Ma Long in the semifinal today is Jung Young-sik of Korea. In the last eight, Young-sik beat Chuang Chih-Yuan of Chinese Taipei 4-2 (11-13, 10-12, 11-6, 11-7, 12-10, 11-1). The other two spots in the semis will be decided today, when Xu Xin of China takes on Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu, while Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov meets Fan Zhendong of China. Earlier, the No.8 seed Ovcharov had beaten Hong Kong’s Tang Peng, the No.14 seed, in five games (11-9, 11-5, 13-15, 14-12, 11-6) to reserve his place in the quarter-finals. The second seed Zhendong accounted for Japan’s Koki Niwa, the No.15 seed 4-1 (11-6, 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 11-4) and Xu Xin, the No.3 seed, defeated 11th seeded Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chien-An 4-0 (11-8, 11-11, 11-6, 11-8).

Japanu2019s Yuto Maramatsu goes for a forehand against Belarusian Vladimir Samsonov in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Doha yesterday. At right, womenu2019s top seed Ding Ning of China in action against Hong Kongu2019s Lee Ho Ching. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Muramatsu knocks out Samsonov in opener

Qatar’s Li Ping crashes out to world and Olympic champion Ma Long of China Veteran Vladimir Samsonov was knocked out in the first round by Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Doha yesterday. At the Ali bin Hamad al-Attiyah Arena, the Belarusian World No. 8 lost 3-4 (11-5, 11-7, 5-11, 6-11, 1-11, 11-9, 11-6) to Muramatsu. For the 40-year-old Samsonov, playing for the 20th straight year on the tour, it was always going to be a tough test against the much-improved Muramatsu. Samsonov had beaten Muramatsu earlier this year in the European league, but the 10th ranked Japanese has been in fine form lately, having won titles in Germany and the Czech Republic besides finishing runner-up in China. The 20-year-old Japanese started off on a bright note, winning the first two games but the experienced Samsonov fought right back taking the next three games to jump into a 3-2 lead. However, Muramatsu find his groove at the right time to win the last two games and clinch the match. Meanwhile, it was end of the road for Qatar too as the hosts’ only representative in the tournament, Li Ping, lost to World and Olympic champion Ma Long of China 2-4 (11-4, 9-11, 11-7, 3-11, 6-11, 8-11) in the last 16 match. Ma Long is the overwhelming favourite to defend his title, which he won last year in Lisbon, Portugal. Yesterday surprisingly, Ping took the opening and the third game to take a 2-1 lead but it was all Ma Long from then on as the Chinese pocketed the match quite easily. The 28-year-old Long, will meet Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong in the quarter-final today. Chun Ting overcame Kenta Matsudaira of Japan in a tight encounter 4-3 (6-11, 12-14, 8-11, 13-11, 11-9, 14-16, 11-8). The draw is in favour of Ma long too this time. The Chinese won the ITTF title in Qatar early this year and he is not expected to meet his countrymen world number two Fan Zhendong and number three Xu Xin until the final. In the women’s Zhu Yuling of China, put in a flawless performance as the third seed ousted Japan’s Hitomi Sato, the no.16 seed, 4-0 (11-2, 11-6, 11-5, 11-3). Yuling, the twice World Junior champion, was never seriously threatened by Sato. But Kasumi Ishikawa, the no.2 seed Japanese, was extended to full seven games by 15th seed Korean Suh Hyowon before she prevailed 4-3 (8-11, 2-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-8, 6-11, 11-5). Hyowon put Ishikawa to test in the first game, with the Korean’s service proving difficult to handle for the Japanese. However, Ishikawa recovered and won the third and fourth game, before Hyowon needed medical help after suffering a small cut on the little finger of her playing hand. The next two games were shared with the tentative Ishikawa making errors to lose the sixth. In the decider, Ishikawa won five points on the trot to seal the match in her favour. “I was nervous receiving her service. I made mistakes. In the third game when she took the injury break, it enabled me to calm myself and focus,” said a relived Ishikawa after the match. Hong Kong’s Tie Yana, the No.5 seed ,also had to dig deep into her reserves before she beat No. 9 Yuka Ishigaki of Japan 4-3 (9-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-4). However, top seed Ding Ning of China had no such problems as the reigning Olympic and World champion beat Hong Kong’s Lee Ho Ching, the no.12 seed, in four straight games (14-12, 11-7, 11-5, 11-6).   Last 16 results Men’s singles Ma Long (China) bt LI Ping (Qatar) 4-2 (4-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-3, 11-6, 11-8) Wong Chun Ting (Hong Kong) bt Kenta Matsudaira (Japan) 4-3 (6-11, 12-14, 8-11, 13-11, 11-9, 14-16, 11-8) Jung Young-Sik (South Korea) bt Jun Mizutani (Japan) 4-3 (7-11, 10-12, 12-10 11-8, 11-13, 11-7, 11-9) Yuto Muramatsu (Japan) bt Vladimir Samsonov (Belarus) 4-3 (11-5, 11-7, 5-11, 6-11, 1-11, 11-9, 11-6)   Women’s singles Ding Ning (China) bt Lee Ho-Ching (Hong Kong) 4-0 (14-12, 11-7, 11-5, 11-6) Tie Ya Na (Hong Kong) bt Yuka Ishigaki 4-3 (9-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-4) Zhu Yuling (China) bt Hitomi Sato (Japan) 4-0 (11-3, 11-6, 11-5, 11-3) Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan) bt Suh Hyowon (South Korea) 4-3 (8-11, 2-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-8, 6-11, 11-5)

Former World No. 1 Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus has played in six straight Olympics, from 1996 to 2016, but the medal he most covets still eludes him.
Sport
Samsonov shows age is no barrier

Samsonov has been ranked among the world’s top 10 for much of the last 20 years For Vladimir Samsonov, age is just a number. At 40, the table tennis star from Belarus is the oldest man on the circuit but quite clearly the exuberant of the lot. In a sport, where Chinese have dominated at every level, from Olympics to World Championships to Tour level in the last three decades, the former World No. 1 Samsonov has carved a place for himself. He has been ranked among the world’s top 10 for much of the last 20 years, and also holds the distinction with most ITTF ProTour titles — a whopping 26. In Doha for the season-ending ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, Samsonov is one of the season’s top 16 performers invited for the lucrative tournament, which starts today at the Ali bin Hamad al-Attiyah arena. In his own words, 2016 has been an interesting year for Samsonov. He almost realised a long-cherished dream at the Rio Games, when he was at the doorstep of winning a medal, only to lose in the bronze medal play-off to Japan’s Jun Mizutani. But that hasn’t stopped him from dreaming as he chases his first World Tour Grand Finals crown in Doha. “It has been an interesting year, with so many positive things happening for me,” said Samsonov. “I started the year really well. I was second in the German Open. I have played quite well for the rest of the year. At the Rio Olympics, I reached the semi-finals for the first time. It was my sixth Olympics and it was the first time I had managed to reach the last four. It was really special, I played some crazy matches, especially in the quarter-finals but I suffered an injury in that match,” he added. As fate would have it, the Belarusian suffered a serious rib injury during his quarter-final win over Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany. He struggled to move freely, which severely hampered his chances of beating his semi-final opponent, China’s Zhang Jike. “I fell and damaged my ribs in the quarters. Though I won that match, I had problems to continue. Of course beating Zhang is always tough but after my injury I couldn’t play a strong forehand top spin. I had to change something, tactically I had to play a bit slower and more passively,” said Samsonov. He also failed to recover in time for the bronze medal play-off, leaving his dream in tatters. From the 1996 to the 2012 Olympic Games, he has fallen at either the fourth round or the quarter-final hurdles, going the distance in each match only to lose in the deciding game. After six straight Olympics, the medal he most covets still eludes him. Not one to look back, Samsonov has not ruled out playing at his seventh Olympics, in Tokyo in four years’ time. “I want to win an Olympic medal. One way it was very disappointing not to win a medal. Few times I was very close to reaching the semi-finals, and this time I did qualify. On the other hand, if I had won an Olympic medal, I wouldn’t have played for such a long time. There are two sides to it,” said Samsonov. On the tour, he has been asked many times about his long playing career and Samsonov credited his family for the support. “There are many things that matter. My family is very important to me. My wife and children give me a lot of positive energy. Of course, I love playing table tennis. There are some goals I have not achieved yet. You also have to be lucky, meeting the right people at the right time,” said Samsonov, the father of two sons aged 15 and 10. In Doha, first up for the Belarusian is Yuto Muramatsu of Japan, with a clash against No. 3 three Xu Xin of China a likely prospect in the quarter-finals. Samsonov knows he will have to be at his best to finish the year on a high. “Only top players are playing here and everyone is difficult to beat. I won against Muramatsu in the European league earlier this year. But it’s a different competition, so I should not let my guard down here. “Against Xu Xin, it’s been a long time since I won against him. It was in 2012. But after that I played him in the quarters last year and it was a close match. I lost 4-2 but I was leading in the sixth set 10-7. Of course now I have to concentrate in the first round then will see what happens,” Samsonov said. Ever since he took the game, table tennis has evolved a lot. Balls, for one thing, have become bigger in a bid to slow the game down and make it more spectator-friendly. They are now made using plastic instead of celluloid, while games are played to 11 points instead of 21 points. The sport now favours aggressive players and required players like Samsonov, who has a more passive style, to adjust quite a bit. But it’s the never-give-up attitude that has helped the now 40-year-old not just survive but also shine amongst the competition. Age is indeed a number.

Xavi demonstrates skills with football freestyler Sean Garnier at Soccerex Asian Forum 2016 yesterday.
Sport
I am here not just to play football, says Xavi

Spanish football star Xavi Hernandez has made Qatar his second home. The legendary midfielder joined Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd last season, after 24 years playing for Spanish giants Barcelona. Xavi is also an ambassador for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar and has embraced the life and culture in Qatar. Yesterday, the former Spain captain was the focal point at the two-day Soccerex Asian Forum 2016 at the Grand Hyatt yesterday. Xavi was one of the speakers at the event on the opening day as he talked about his experiences working with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s Generation Amazing programme. Xavi spoke passionately about his recent visit to Jordan, where he met and inspired children in a refugee camp. He said it was an unforgettable experience to spend time with the children. “This is a very important project and I am proud to be part of it. To share my experiences, not only particular to football, but generally is what makes me happy. It’s very interesting project and goes with my personality. I know I am blessed in my life, so to inspire and help the underprivileged children in a refugee camp gives me a sense of satisfaction. I am just trying to give back and spread happiness,” said Xavi. “I’m not as popular as current players. But I would like to make others happy, this is the best thing I will achieve in my life. To inspire them to play football is the biggest thing for me. Yes, football is a means that can be very useful and change the lives of the people. “As footballers we have to guide and help others, that is my aim. What we want is this project be continued and also followed in other parts of the world. We have to give something back to the community. That’s the spirit of this project,” the Spaniard added. Looking back, the 36-year-old is pleased that he has made a move to Qatar and said his role at the Aspire academy is to nurture the talent. “I am here not just to play football. At the Aspire academy I try to impart my skills to kids there. I want to improve the ability of the local players here. It’s not easy to work as a coach because you need a coordinate. We need to work together to implement the strategies of the Aspire Academy. We are trying to help players get ready to play at the 2022 World Cup,” Xavi said. The former Barcelona captain was looking forward to welcome his former teammates to Doha for a friendly against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia on December 13th. “It’s a great opportunity for the people of Qatar to see a team like Barcelona. I hope we see a great game against Al Ahli. I am in touch with the players a lot, but it’s a great opportunity to see them in person again. It will be a full stadium, a spectacular game of football, because here they really love Barca,” he said. Xavi was glued to the TV in the weekend when Barcelona played Real Madrid in ‘El Clasico’, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Real’s Sergio Ramos scored a last-minute header. “It was a very even match. In the first half we (Barcelona) didn’t play well. (Luis) Suarez’s goal changed things and we played much better with Andre (Iniesta) coming on. Iniesta makes the difference for Barca, he is always under control with his passing. Ramos’s goal to draw level may seem a bit unfair but if you analyse the game in general, Madrid deserved to take home a point,” Xavi observed. On the chances of Al Sadd winning the QSL title this year, Xavi said the league is very competitive and it is difficult to predict a winner. “We have recruited some new players this season and so far it has been good. We have to wait and see if we can win the title. Al Rayyan won last year and we are trying our best. Competition is tougher each year,” the Al Sadd skipper said.

Iranu2019s Soheil Vahedi (left) won his maiden title, while for Wendy Jans of Belgium it was her sixth crown at the 2016 IBSF World Amateur Snooker Championship at Al Sadd indoor hall in Doha yesterday.
Sport
Vahedi and Jans clinch IBSF World Snooker Championship

In the men’s final, Vahedi thumps Pagett of Wales 8-1, while Jans routs India’s Kamani for women’s title Iranian Soheil Vahedi and Wendy Jans of Belgium clinched the 2016 IBSF World Amateur Snooker Championship in style yesterday, cruising to victories at the Al Sadd indoor hall. In the men’s final, Vahedi thumped Andrew Pagett of Wales 8-1 for his maiden World title, while Jans reaffirmed her status as the queen of women’s snooker with her fifth consecutive title, and sixth in total, with a 5-0 rout of India’s Amee Kamani. After so many nail-biting matches in the 10-day long tournament, the lop-sided nature of the finals yesterday was surprising. Jans was expected to dominate women’s final, with Kamani making her maiden appearance at the world stage. But Vahedi’s total dominance against former main tour professional Pagett came as a shocker. ?Both players were appearing in the final for the first time, but it was the 27-year-old Vahedi, who dictated the game from the word go. The Iranian took a 3-0 lead, which was capped with a break of 58 in the third frame. But Pagett, who reached the Crucible (one of the biggest venues in professional snooker) in 2011, got on the board courtesy of a 69 in fourth 4. However, Vahedi struck back with runs of 57 and 81 to take the last two frames of the session and stretch his advantage to 5-1. Time was running out for Pagget and the Welshman started brightly but only to see Vahedi clear the last red with all the colours to go 6-1 up. With Vahedi needing just two more frames in the best-of-15 encounter, the title was within the grasp of Iranian. And he wasted little time in doing so.   He made breaks of 55 and 63 in the following two frames to clinch the title, becoming the second cueist from Iran to lift the trophy. Hossein Vafaei Ayouri was the first World Champion from Iran when he won in India in 2011. Vahedi’s victory was the largest winning margin since 1992 and guarantees him a two-year professional tour card. But it remains to be seen whether he will take up the tour card, after last year’s winner Pankaj Advani of India had declined the offer. For Pagett, who was bidding to become the first Welsh winner since Michael White in 2006 (called IBSF World Grand Prix then), it was a disappointing way to end the championship. The 34-year-old had trounced Advani 7-2 in the semis and was the favourite to win the title, at least on paper. Pagett, the the first non-Asian player to feature in a final since 2012, was under pressure from the beginning and struggled to play on the table chosen for the final. “I had struggled in this table during the last-32 match, and it was very slow table, which didn’t suit my style. But Soheil is a worthy champion. He hits the ball lot harder than me, which benefited him today,” said Pagett. “I have been on a professional tour not long ago. I have beaten the best and lost to the worst. I was probably one of the favourites to win title. So I am happy having made it to the final of the world championship,” the Welshman added. For the women’s champion Jans, it wasn’t a stroll in the park against Kamani, but she wasn’t stretched either by the Indian rookie, who making her maiden appearance in the final. The 33-year-old Jans was playing in her tenth world championship final yesterday. The Belgian won her first title in 2006, and then added to her collection of world titles in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. She was the beaten finalist in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. Needless to say, Jans has dominated the sport for long. Her record also includes winning the European title 10 times and the Belgian national championship 14 times. Kamani did put up a fight in the first two frames, but Jans saw through the difficult period and took a 2-0. Her experience and guile proved valuable as she raised her game by few notches, to record scores of 33 and two 32s and clinch yet another title. Jans was pleased after winning her sixth world title, but wasn’t too happy with the way she won it. “I have been playing for a long time, more than 20 years now, since I was a little girl. Maybe it’s because of the experience I have I won here. But honestly, I didn’t play well my best at all, it was good enough though in the end,” Jan said.   “I am really happy that I defended my title, but little bit disappointed with my game. But as long as it’s good enough, a win is a win,” she added. Jans, who runs a snooker club in Belgium while also working in a full-time job, is not yet ready to relinquish her title as queen of snooker. “I see that lot of girls are coming up, especially the girls from Asia, from Thailand and China. They are getting better and I am getting older as well (laughs). I know a lot of girls here and they look up to me because I have been dominating for so long. Maybe that’s one of those reasons I have been doing well,” she said.  “I always want to win, so every win makes me happy. It’s not the same feeling like when I won the first World title, because it’s something special. But still to retain my title every year, it feels nice,” Jans added. Meanwhile, Dharminder Lilly of India won the Masters title defeating Elfed Evans 6-2 of Wales in the final.

Wales' Andrew Pagett beat India's Pankaj Advani in the semi-finals of the IBSF World Amateur Snooker Championship yesterday.
Sport
Pagett halts Advani’s run, to meet Vahedi in final today

Having retired from professional snooker after dropping off the main tour last season, Andrew Pagett had a lot to prove coming into the IBSF World Amateur Snooker Championship in Doha. The Welshman had endured a difficult time at the professional level, where the margin for error is minuscule. The amateur game gives a player a breathing space. But yesterday, Pagett was up against defending champion Pankaj Advani in the semi-finals and he knew nothing other than his best would topple the fancied Indian. And Pagett delivered just that at the Al Sadd indoor arena yesterday. The 34-year-old put on a masterful show as he outplayed Advani, the 15-time World champion in snooker and billiards, 7-2. Pagett was in total control of the best-of-13 frames semifinal, as he opened up a 3-0 lead, which included breaks of 71 and 51 in the second and third games respectively. After having breezed into the knockout stage without even losing a frame in four matches, Advani was off colour. The 31-year-old from Bengaluru uncharacteristically scraped into the semis, surviving some close encounters. Yesterday, Advani failed to find the footing, with Pagett creating the momentum. Advani opened his account in the fourth frame but Pagett maintained his lead, with a 81-point break to win the fifth. Advani kept a glimmer of hope when he won the sixth frame to make it 4-2, but Pagett won the next three with ease to seal his place in the final. It was Advani’s second loss in the Doha semis, having bowed out at the same stage at the Asian Snooker Championship in April. Earlier, Advani had defeated Thailand’s Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon 6-5 in an exciting quarter-final duel to guarantee India a medal in the tournament. Pagett will face Iran’s Soheil Vahedi in the best of 15-frame final. In the semis, The 27-year-old Vahedi edged out Declan Brennan of Northern Ireland in an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The match wad decided in the last frame, with Vahedi potting the pink and black to stun Brennan 63-52. Vahedi had allowed Brennan back into game, having allowed a 4-1 advantage slip away. The 23-year-old Brennan, in fact, not only cut down the deficit but took a 5-4 lead. But Vahedi took the 10th and 11th frame to regain the advantage. The Brennan took the match to decider winning the 12th frame, where Vahedi produced an dramatic finish to enter the final. In the women’s final, defending champion Wendy Jans of Belgium will take on Amee Kamani of India. This is the fifth time Jans has made it to the final of the world championship, having won the title on the previous four occasions. Yesterday, the Belgian lived up to her top billing as she trounced one of the two Thailand players in the semis, Nutcharat Wongharuthai, 4-1. The 17-year-old Wongharuthai put up a fight in the first two and the fourth frame but wilted under pressure created by the four-time champion. Jans had been in a superior form, having eliminated two of her strongest opponents going into the semis. The 33-year-old had beaten former European champion Tatjana Vasiljeva of Latvia 4-1 in the last-16. She dominated her quarter-final against former world champion, Ng On Yee of Hong Kong, with an identical score. Jans will be the favourite going against Kamani, who defeated Thai girl Waratthanun Sukritthanes 4-2. India’s Kamani is the reigning national 6-Red snooker champion but she will have to be at her best to beat the experienced Jans. Yesterday though, Kamani showed she can rise to the big occasion as she took a commanding 3-0 lead against Sukritthanes. The 22-year-old Thai bounced back to take the fourth and fifth frame with a break of 47 and 32 and cut down the deficit. But Kamani maintained her composure to pocket a close sixth frame and with it a spot in her maiden world championship final.

Irelandu2019s Michael Judge in action at the IBSF World Snooker Championship yesterday.  Right photo: Indiau2019s Pankaj Advani in action during his pre-quarter-final against Malaysiau2019s Keen Hoo Moh.
Sport
Defending champion Advani, Judge enter quarter-finals

Ireland’s Judge beat former World No. 3 Manan Chandra of India 5-0, India’s Advani down Malaysia’s Moh 5-3 It was a hectic day’s of action for the men at the IBSF World Snooker Championship, but Michael Judge made it look like a stroll in the park. The Irishman had a intriguing last-32 stage match against former World Champion Mohamed Asif of Pakistan. But Judge won a tricky encounter 5-3 to seal his place in the pre-quarters. A few hours later, Judge was the first to seal his spot in the quarter-finals at the Al Sadd Indoor hall as he blanked former World No.3 Manan Chandra of India 5-0. Against Asif, Judge got off to a great start to take a 3-1 lead. The 41-year-old crafted two breaks of 63 and 66 in the procession to mount some serious pressure on Asif. But the experienced Asif retaliated, winning two frames in a row. The 2012 world champion made a break of 60 in the sixth frame, but failed to take advantage and take the lead. Judge jumped on the opportunity and pocketed the next two frames to close out the match. In the pre-quaters, Judge was in a cruise mode against Chandra. The Irishman did not drop a single frame as he dominated each on of them, with some fine precision and clear potting. In fact, Judge never gave an opening to Chandra, who struggled for momentum. Earlier though, Chandra was in fine form as he defeated the 16-year-old sensation Yuan Sijun of China. The last-32 encounter was an exciting one. Sijun, who is tipped for bigger things, dominated the initial rounds with the first frame win on black ball and later two breaks of 70 and 81 to take up 3-1 lead. But the 35-year-old Chandra tightened his game, to win the fifth frame by a very close 58-40 margin to narrow down the deficit. With young Sijun under pressure, Chandra took the sixth and seventh frame to pocket the match 5-3. Meanwhile, Mohamed Bilal kept Pakistan’s hopes alive, with a win over Alexander Ursenbacher of Switzerland 5-3 in the pre-quarters. In the morning session, Bilal had beaten Thomas Dowling of Ireland 5-3. Defending champion Pankaj Advani of India endured an uncharacteristically a difficult day. The  15-time World champion in snooker and billiards had a safe passage in the tournament so far, but he was tested yesterday. In the last-32, Advani was trailing 2-3 to Babar Masih of Pakistan, before prevailing 5-3. However, it was the night’s pre-quarters against Malaysia’s Keen Hoo Moh, which pushed Advani to the limit. Advani lost the first frame, but won the next two with a breaks of 61 and 126. But Moh was upto the task as he won the fourth and fifth frame for a 3-2 lead. However, Advani controlled his nerves to pocket the next three frames and clinch the match 5-3. The Indian will face Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon of Thailand in the quarters today. In the women’s semi-final, Amee Kamani of India will take on Waratthanun Sukritthanes of Thailand today. In their quarter-final matches yesterday, Kamani beat her compatriot Chitra Magimairajan 4-1, after losing the first frame, while Sukritthanes also beat her countrywoman, teenager Siripaporn Nuanthakhamjan 4-1. Belgium’s Wendy Jans also sealed her spot in the semis, with a 4-1 win over Ng On Yee of Hong Kong. Jans will next meet Thailand’s Nutcharat Wongharuthai, who defeated Australia’s Jessica Woods 4-2. The men’s quarter and semi-finals and women’s semis will be played today at the Al Sadd indoor hall. Both the finals are scheduled for tomorrow.   IBSF new office bearers elected Meanwhile, at their Annual General Assembly, the International Billiards and Snooker Federation elected the new executive members. As reported by Gulf Times earlier, Qatar’s Mubarak Hamad al-Khayareen was elected unopposed as the new president of the IBSF. Al-Khayareen is a board member of the IBSF and also heads the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports. He is also the Executive Director of the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation. There was no nomination for the post of treasurer as well, with Michael Alkhoury of Syria getting re-elected. It was decided at the AGM, that the new office bearers will serve a four-year term. While, Malta was announced as the host for the 2017 World Snooker Championship for Men, Women and Masters. The 2017 World Team and 6Reds will continue at Egypt and for the 2017 IBSF World Under-18 and Under-21 Snooker Championship, the board will decide between Brazil and China as the next host. ISBF office bearers Mubarak Hamad al-Khayareen (President); Jim Leacy (Vice President); Mohamed El Kammah (General Secretary); Michael Alkhoury (Treasurer); Barrie Jones and Maxime Cassis, being the regional presidents, as board members.

Left photo: Qataru2019s Mubarak Hamad al-Khayareen (centre) poses with other officials after he was elected unopposed as the new president of International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) at the Annual General Assembly yesterday. Al-Khayareen is a board member of the IBSF and also heads the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports. He is also the Executive Director of the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation.  Top right photo: Chitra Magimairajan of India in action during her match against compatriot Vidya Pillai at the IBSF Snooker World Championships at Al Sadd Indoor Hall yesterday.  Bottom right photo: Thai teenager Siripaporn Nuanthakhamjan booked her place in the last eight.
Sport
Chitra clinches all-Indian affair to enter quarter-finals

Belgium’s Jans, Australia’s Woods and Thai teenager Nuanthakhamjan were the others to seal their quarters berth Chitra Magimairajan of India held her nerve to edge out compatriot Vidya Pillai 4-3 to enter the quarter-finals of the IBSF Snooker World Championships in Doha yesterday. At the Al Sadd Indoor Hall, the all-Indian affair turned out to be a thriller as the last 16 match swung like a pendulum. After trailing 2-3 and needing to win the last two frames to keep her title dreams alive, Chitra switched gears as she clinched the sixth frame to make it 3-all. The deciding frame was too close to call, with Vidya keeping the pressure on her countrywoman. But the Bangalore-based Chitra maintained her composure to close out the frame 50-34. Only four pre-quarter-final matches were played yesterday, with the rest four and quarters to be completed today. Belgium’s Wendy Jans, Australia’s Jessica Woods and Thai teenager Siripaporn Nuanthakhamjan were the others to seal their quarter-final spot yesterday. All four won with an identical margin of 4-1. Jans beat Tatjana Vasiljeva of Latvia, while Woods overcame India’s Arantxa Sanchis. And then later the 17-year-old Nuanthakhamjan scored an easy win over Floriza Andal of Philippines. The men’s last-32 line-up were completed on Friday, and will be played today. The majority of the big names remain in the hunt for glory in Doha. Defending champion Pankaj Advani of India had showed he means business as he outclassed Sean Corkish of Isle 4-0. All the frames were one-sided with Advani also posting 126 points clearance in the last frame. Pakistan’s Mohamed Asif and Mohamed Bilal also cruised into round of 32. Asif, the 2012 world champion, brought down Australia’s Ryan Thomerson 4-2 despite enduring a rough start. Pakistan’s top ranked player Bilal outclassed New Zealand’s Jason Todd 4-0 to reach the round of 32. Ireland’s TJ Dowling and Michael Judge also progressed to the next round. Reigning Irish national champion Dowling recorded breaks of 83, 81 and 51 in whitewashing experienced American Ajeya Prabhakar 4-0. Dowling will take on Bilal for a berth in the last 16. Judge, meanwhile, lost the first frame to Antonis Poullos before gaining control in a 4-1 triumph that sets up an intriguing clash with 2012 champion Asif. A win for Judge could set up an equally difficult tie against talented teenager Yuan Sijun from China. The top ranked Irishman Jason Devaney is out, though, after falling at the second knockout stage to former professional Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon. Devaney last season lost 4-0 to the young Thai, who dropped off the Main Tour at the end of the last campaign after failing to play in the majority of ranking events. Jamie Clarke, runner-up in three major international finals, young European duo Alexander Ursenbacher and Lukas Kleckers are all still in contention. Meanwhile, Qatar’s challenge in the championships had come to an end on Friday, after Mhanaa Alobaidli and Ahmed Saif faltered in the last-64 stage. The Polish team also received a big setback as their ace players, Krzysztof Wróbel, Mateusz Baranowski and Marcin Nitschke lost the matches in deciding frames. Over 250 players from 55 countries are competing in the IBSF World Snooker championship, which is being held concurrently for men, women and masters. The 10-day tournament will end on Tuesday. A total of $16,000 is up for grabs in the men’s event of the championship, being hosted for the first time in the GCC. The women’s event carries a $6,000 purse while $8,000 is at stake for the master players. The winner of the championship highest break in the men’s category will receive $500 cash reward plus certificate. For women, the highest break will fetch $200 and for the masters’ $300.

Gulf Times
Sport
Qatar’s challenge comes to an end at World Snooker

Qatar’s challenge came to an end at the 2016 IBSF World Snooker Championships at the Al Sadd arena yesterday. Six local cueists out of seven had entered the last-78 knockout stage but only Mhanaa al-Obaidli could progress into last-64. However, Mhanaa went on to lose to Michael Collumb of Scotland 4-0 in the last-64 match, also played yesterday, ending the local interest in the tournament. Earlier, in the match between siblings, Mhanaa had beaten Ali 4-1 in a last-78 clash. The other Qatar players fared poorly yesterday. Mohsen Bukshaisha lost to Ang Boon Chin of Singapore 1-4, while Khamis Alobaidli was beaten by Egypt’ Basem Eltahhan by the same margin. But it was Ahmed Saif, who would be most disappointed after losing to Andrew Pagett of Wales 3-4 in a close match. Saif, four years ago, had made history by becoming the first snooker player from Qatar to turn professional. But after joining the world stage on a two-year Tour card, he had to drop out at the end of 2015. The 33-year-old was Qatar’s best hope at the World Championship in Doha, and he looked in control of his match against Pagett in the beginning. Saif took a 2-0 lead after winning the first two frames but allowed Pagett to take the next three. Saif bounced back to win the sixth frame, but Pagett won the decisive seventh frame 72-43. Meanwhile, defending champion Pankaj Advani of India thrashed Sean Corkish of Isle of Man 4-0 to enter the last-32. Advani, the 15-time world champion, in both Snooker and Billiards, won this title last year in Egypt. He dominated Corkish from the word go and also registered a break of 126 in the fourth frame. The other Indians had a good day as well. Manan Chandra beat Felix Frede of Germany 4-2, while Lucky Vatnani had to work hard in his win over Mohamed Reza Hassan of Malaysia 4-3. Pakistan’s former world champion Mohamed Asif won his match against Ryan Thomerson of Australia 4-2. Meanwhile, Issara Kachaiwong of Thailand hit a maximum 147 points in a frame in his 4-0 thrashing of Peter McCullagh of Australia. Kachaiwong started up with a long red pot in top pocket and after that he sliced up each red precisely with a combination of black followed by the colours to carry through the last black and claimed the maximum. He also made a century break of 108 points in the third frame. The last-32 will be played today and will be a best of 9 frames match. Over 250 players from 55 countries are competing in the IBSF World Snooker championship, which is being held concurrently for men, women and masters. The 10-day tournament will end on Tuesday. A total of $16,000 is up for grabs in the men’s event of the championship, being hosted for the first time in the GCC. The women’s event carries a $6,000 purse while $8,000 is at stake for the master players. The winner of the championship highest break in the men’s category will receive $500 cash reward plus certificate. For women, the highest break will fetch $200 and for the masters’ $300.

Qataru2019s Mubarak Hamad al-Khayareen is set to be elected IBSF president.  Right photo: Mohsin al-Abdulrahman overcame Janio Santos Goncalves of Brazil 3-0.
Sport
Mixed bag for Qatar cueists at IBSF Snooker World C’Ships

Three Qatari cueists registered victories at the IBSF Snooker Championships at the Al Sadd Indoor Hall yesterday. Ali Alobaidli, Bashar Abdulmajeed and Mohsin al-Abdulrahman all scored victories to boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage. Al-Obaidli got past Hisham Nadi of Egypt 4-0, while Abdulmajeed beat Japan’s Keishin Kamihashi 4-2. Later, Mohsin al-Abdulrahman overcame Janio Santos Goncalves of Brazil 3-0. However, two other local players lost their match. Ahmed Saif went down to Scotland’s Chris Totten 2-4, while Mohsen Bukshaisha was beaten by Felix Frede of Germany 0-4. Meanwhile, former IBSF world champion Mohamed Asif of Pakistan was upset by Thomas Dowling of Ireland. Asif, who had won three matches previously to enter the knock out stage, was not in his best form yesterday. On Tuesday, Asif had rallied to overcome Alobaidli 4-3 after trailing 1-3 at one stage. But there was no escape for Asif yesterday, as Dowling won the fifth and sixth frame to pocket the match 4-2. A win against Dowling in his final group match, would have guaranteed him the top spot in the group, by virtue of which he would have been awarded a bye in the first knockout stage. Asif now will have to do all the scraping especially with defending champion Pankaj Advani in fine form. Advani, the 15-time world champion, in both Snooker and Billiards, won this title last year in Egypt and the Indian has won all his matches comfortably to cruise into the knockouts. In fact, the 31-year-old is yet to lose a frame in the tournament, while winning 16 frames so far in his convincing victories. Advani is most likely to acquire the top-seed slot for the knockouts, which commences from tomorrow. Mateusz Baranowski of Poland advanced to the knockout stage after defeating Welshman Andrew Pagett 4-3. Baranowski had already lost one match against Sundeep Gulati of India, which made yesterday’s match a important one for the Pole. And Baranowski rose to the occasion, starting the match with an impressive break of 76 points and winning the first two frames. Pagett pulled it back to take the match to decider, but Baranowski held his nerve to clinch the frame with a winning break of 58 points. Over 250 players from 55 countries are competing in the IBSF World Snooker championship, which is being held concurrently for men, women and masters. The 10-day tournament will end on November 29. A total of $16,000 is up for grabs in the men’s event of the championship, being hosted for the first time in the GCC. This is the second World Championship the QBSF is hosting in three months, after the 9-Ball Pool event in August. The women’s event carries a $6,000 purse while $8,000 is at stake for the master players. The winner of the championship highest break in the men’s category will receive $500 cash reward plus certificate. For women, the highest break will fetch $200 and for the masters’ $300.   Al-Khayareen set to be new IBSF president Meanwhile, Qatar’s Mubarak Hamad al-Khayareen is set to be elected unopposed as the new president of International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF). The IBSF’s new office-bearers will be elected on Saturday at the Annual General Assembly, to be held on the sidelines of ongoing World Snooker Championships in Doha. He is a Board member of the IBSF and also heads the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports. Al-Khayareen, currently Executive Director of the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation, will take over from India’s Captain PVK Mohan, who completed his two-year term.

Champion Patrick Dogue (centre) of Germany poses on the podium with silver medallist Valentin Belaud (left) of France and third-placed Robert Kasza of Hungary after the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Champion of Champions at the Al Shaqab arena, yesterday. Pictures: Jayaram
Sport
Dogue becomes UIPM Champion of Champions

At the Rio Olympics earlier this year, Patrick Dogue was in sight of a podium finish in the Modern Pentathlon. Placed 4th, with his strongest event Combined (shooting and running) only to go, the German was confident of winning any of the three medals. But Dogue failed to do well in shooting and had to settle for sixth place, just five points behind the bronze medallist. Yesterday, at the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Champion of Champions in Doha, Dogue was in a similar position but this time he didn’t put a foot wrong. At the Al Shaqab arena, the 24-year-old Dogue started the combined event in sixth place. By the end of it though, he was crowned Champion of Champions after finishing first in the last event. Dogue’s 613 points in shooting and running propelled him to first place, with a total tally of 1438. World champion Valentin Belaud of France was second with 1430 points, ahead of Robert Kasza of Hungary, who took bronze with 1427 points. Dogue was delighted to end the season on a high, and make it a German double in Doha, after his compatriot Annika Schleu had won the women’s title on Saturday. “I am feeling very good. I was in the same position at the Olympics but did very badly in shooting and finished sixth. But here I was very good in shooting, so I won the gold,” Dogue said. “Normally I am good in combined (shoot and run) but I had a bad day in Rio so fell out of the podium contention. I was sad later but sixth place is still not bad. Before going to Olympics if someone had told me I would come sixth, I would’ve taken it,” he added. Yesterday, Belaud was breathing down Dogue’s neck but the German managed to stay clear and finished the race by a comfortable margin. “I won comfortably but Belaud is very fast. I know him since we were 15 and he is a very fast runner. We have competed hard against each other for years so I was wary of him at the beginning of the race. I knew he was behind me and was not far away from me but I managed to hold on,” Dogue said. For Belaud, it was not a bad way to end the season. The Frenchman tasted the highs and lows of sport in 2016. After winning the UIPM World Championships in Moscow, Russia in May, Belaud was considered one of the favourites for Olympic gold. But it turned out to be a disaster for the 24-year-old in Rio, where he finished 20th. After picking up silver yesterday, Belaud chose to look at the positives. “I finished 20th at the Olympics. But before that, I won the 2016 UIPM World Championships in May. I am just 24, so I have a long way to go. This season I finished on the podium four times so I am very very happy,” the Frenchman explained. On his performance yesterday he said: “It was a good day for me. It was my last competition in the Olympic year, so I am pleased to finish on a good note. I was leading in the competition but I am happy with silver medal. This my second time in Doha, I was here two years ago and finished 7th. So this time to get a silver medal is a good achievement.” The season-ending UIPM event, which saw all disciplines contested in a single day, only offered invitations to the top 18 men and women in the world rankings, so an impressive field was guaranteed. The athletes began the day with a 200 metres freestyle swimming competition. A round robin of epee fencing then took place before the fencing bonus round, with show jumping following on a course with 12 obstacles. Champion was crowned after a combined 3,200m run and shooting using a laser pistol, which tested the endurance of the athletes.

Sliver medallist Samantha Murray (left) of Great Britain, champion Annika Schleu of Germany and Korea's Kim Sehee, who finished third, pose on the podium at International Modern Pentathlon Union Champion of Champions at Al Shaqab Arena yesterday. PICTURES: Jayaram
Sport
Schleu crowned UIPM Champion of Champions

It is a year that Samantha Murray would want to forget quickly. The former world champion from Britain said she was heartbroken after finishing ninth at the Rio Olympics. The 2012 London Games silver medallist had hoped to be on the podium again but faltered on the big stage in Rio. Disappointed, the Lancashire girl took a break and came to Doha for the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Champion of Champions hoping to end the year on a high. But the victory once again eluded her. This time, though, the 27-year-old Brit managed to take the result in the right spirit as she sported a grin after settling for silver at the Qatar Foundation Recreation Centre and Al Shaqab Arena yesterday. Murray went into the combined event (running and shooting), with a decent lead but crumbled in the relay to give Annika Schleu a second successive title. Schleu had won here last year and the German pounced on a mistake from Murray yesterday to take home the title. The world number five had started the concluding run-shoot relay in eighth position with a deficit of 64 seconds to Murray. But Murray lost her way and went off course, thus losing some valuable seconds. Schleu, a two-time world champion in the relay event, produced a trademark strong finish as she charged through the field to rapidly move into fourth place at the head of a chasing pack. South Korea’s Kim Seehee left the final shooting range in first place only for Schleu to catch-up and then cruise past in the final stages. Murray, whose shooting skills also left her dry on the day, fought past 20-year-old Seehee to snatch second place. In the end, Schleu finished with 1300 points, just seven ahead of Murray’s 1293. Sehee was a further four points behind with 1289. Italy’s Alice Sotero had led Sarolta Kovacs of Hungary and Natsumi Tomonaga of Japan in the opening swimming event. But Murray took the lead after dominating fencing and jumping components. The victory was there for the taking for Murray but she committed a crucial mistake to hand the trophy to Schleu. “I went wrong way on the running course. Course marshall didn’t know I was coming. I turned right instead of left and then I sprinted back but I lost some time and was behind,” Murray said. “I threw me off. I ran fast and hard. As you can see anything can happen in modern pentathlon. But I am happy to finish on the podium and take the silver medal,” she said. Schleu was surprised with her victory. “I won here last year, so I think it’s my lucky place. I started eighth in the last round but I knew I was good at combined event. I wasn’t sure about my fitness but was also not sure about fitness of other girls,” she said “I am really surprised I won. I wanted to be in the top eight. That was my goal. When I started eighth in the final event, I tried to run but never attacked for the podium. But I could do it because I was a good runner. The combined event (shooting and running) is where I am strong at. That really made the difference today. 2016 was the best season of my career. I am fourth in world rankings and came fifth at the Rio Olympic Games, so I am pleased with my performances,” the 26-year-old German added. Men’s competition will be held today. The season-ending event, which sees all disciplines contested in a single day, only offers invitations to the top 18 men and women in the world rankings, so an impressive field is guaranteed. The action begins with a 200 metres freestyle swimming competition. A round robin of epee fencing will then take place before the fencing bonus round, with show jumping following on a course with 12 obstacles. Champion will then be crowned after a combined 3200m run and shooting using a laser pistol. Meanwhile, Fahad Saad al-Qahtani, President of the Qatar Modern Pentathlon Federation, said all efforts are being made to promote the sport in Qatar. He said a committee is being set up to look into it and revealed that a new facility is coming up at Oxygen Park in Education City, a sprawling 12-hectare space which is part of the Qatar Foundation, where the Modern Pentathlon events could be held. Results 1. Annika Schleu (Germany) 1300 points 2. Samantha Murray (Great Britain) 1293 3. Kim Sehee (Korea) 1289 4.  Natsumi Tomonaga (Japan) 1282 5. Anastasiya Prokopenko (Belarus) 1273 6. Samantha Achterberg (USA) 1267 7. Sarolta Kovacs (Hungary) 1249 8. Joanna Muir (Great Britain) 1246 9. Alice Sotero (Italy) 1229 10. Tamara Alekszejev(Hungary) 1217 11. Iryna Khokhlova (Argentina) 1180 12. Anna Maliszewska (Poland) 948 13. Laura Leidis Moya (Cuba) 944 14. Haydy Morsy (Egypt) 899 15. Lena Schoneborn (Germany) 479

Global Champions Tour overall champion champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (centre) of Sweden poses on the podium with Australiau2019s Edwina Tops-Alexander (left), who came second and third-placed Christian Ahlmann of Germany after the Grand Prix of Doha at Al Shaqab arena yesterday, which was the concluding day of the three-day event. PICTURES: Jayaram
Sport
Bengtsson corners overall glory as Tops-Alexander crumbles under pressure

It turned out to be an anti-climax in the end! The much-anticipated showdown between Rolf-G?ran Bengtsson and Edwina Tops-Alexander for the Global Champions Tour title proved to be a no show after the latter suffered a horror night at the Al Shaqab yesterday. Bengtsson, though, was not complaining, as the Swede fulfilled a long-cherished dream to clinch the overall title with his extraordinary 17-year-old stallion Casall ASK. Tops-Alexander was aiming to create history as she was gunning to become the first rider to win three titles. But the Australian crumbled under pressure as she and her 13-year-old bay mare Lintea Tequila made a shock exit in the first round, committing an astonishing eight faults. With weight of expectations off his shoulder, the 54-year-old Bengtsson went on to clinch the Grand Prix of Doha, the final leg of the Global Champions Tour. Watched on by the Qatari royal family, Bengtsson and Casall ASK put on a classy display of accuracy and finesse. “You can say it’s an evening one dreams of,” said a beaming Bengtsson. “It’s a credit to my horse how he makes everything possible. I’m very very happy to have won the overall title. I was lucky to arrive in Doha with a five-point lead and it was a close finish. At age 17 what Casall ASK has done for me is really amazing. I shall see how he does from here and maybe we can still continue a bit more,” the newly-crowned champion added. It was a culmination of a consistent season with Casall for Bengtsson, with the pair securing wins in Valkenswaard and Paris and podium finishes at other stops of the 15-leg tour, which started in April. Bengtsson was richer by €148,500 on the night. His dominant performance in the season also propelled him into pole position in the ranking as he took the lion’s share of the €1mn bonus prize money as he takes his place in GCT history. For the record, Bengtsson finished with 283 points, 16 more than Tops-Alexander’s 267. Christian Ahlmann of Germany completed the podium, finishing third with 239 points. Tops-Alexander was naturally not in good spirits after faltering when it mattered most. “I’m overall very happy, but disappointed with myself about today. My horse went offline at the double and maybe we should’ve stuck to my earlier plan. I’m second because of a reason that Rolf deserved to win,” the 42-year-old Aussie said. Ahlmann too doffed his hat to Bengtsson for clinching the title. “I’m very happy with the show. I had two great rounds but it came to the jump off in the end. My horse was down a bit because we also had the Olympics this year, but I’m very happy with the third place. Rolf surely deserves to be the champion,” the German said. The second position in the Grand Prix of Doha went to Germany’s Daniel Deusser (First Class van Eeckelghem), while the third place was taken by his compatriot Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Fibonacci). Earlier, in the final CSI5* Olympic gold medallist John Whitaker of Britain took the top honours with his stallion Argento. The two legends of the sport put in a masterful display of horsemanship and skill, beating an international field of world class riders in a 22 rider jump-off with €270,000 prize purse on offer. Maikel van der Vleuten of Netherland delivered a masterful round, making brave turns in VDL Groep Quatro to tackle the 1.50/1.55m fences, while finishing second. Germany’ Daniel Deusser and Happiness van T Paradijs looked set to upset the order, however couldn’t match Whitaker’s time of 37.46 second, ending the class in third overall. Qatar’s top rider Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani rode a stunning round with grey stallion Imperio Egipcio Milton, putting in an excellent time of 39.38s much to the delight of the local crowd. But he had to be content with seventh place. It was a good day for Qatar’s Ali Yousef al-Rumaihi, who also jumped double clear in the high octane jump off and finished eighth. Meanwhile, Omar al-Mannai Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab revealed that the magnificent arena will host Global Champions tour for another three years. “We are happy to host the Global Champions Tour in Doha and the exposure and experience we gain is immense. We have reached an agreement with Jan Tops (President and Founder of GCT) and we are announcing that we shall have it for another three years at Al Shaqab,” al-Mannai said.   Results Class 04: Doha 2016 CSI5* 1.60m Table A: Two Rounds with Jump-Off, 1st and 2nd Round Against the Clock 1. Rolf-G?ran Bengtsson (Sweden) Casall ASK. Time: 36.44 secs. Prize money: 148,500 euros 2. Daniel Deusser (Germany) First Class van Eeckelghem. 36.84 secs. 90,000 euros 3. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Germany) Fibonacci. 37.26 secs. 67,500 euros Class 03: Doha 2016 CSI5* 1.50/1.55m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 1. John Whitaker (Great Britain) Argento. 37.46 secs. 89,100 euros 2. Maikel van der Vleuten (Netherlands) VDL Groep Quatro. 37.61 secs. 54,000 euros 3. Daniel Deusser (Germany) Happiness van T Paradijs. 37.86 secs. 40,500 euros Class N 6: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.35/1.40m Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 1. Salman Mohamed A S al-Emadi (Qatar) Zorro Z. 22.83 secs. 6,600 riyals 2. Mubarak Yousuf A S al-Rumaihi (Qatar) SIEC Cosmos Wijngaardhoeve Z. 23.95 secs. 4,000 3. Khalifa Abdulaziz J A al-Thani (Qatar) Sidoline van de Centaur. 24.47secs. 3,000 Class N 5: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.20/1.25m Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 1. Abdullah al-rajhi (Saudi Arabia) H Zoe. 22.61 secs. 4,950 riyals 2. Ahmed Mohamed A M al-Badi (Qatar) Latino 291. 23.29 secs. 3,000 3. Hamad Nasser al-Qadi (Qatar) St. Lucia. 24.42 secs. 2,250

Qataru2019s Bassem Hassan Mohamed in action on Argelith Squid in the CSI5* 1.45m Speed Class at the Al Shaqab Arena yesterday. PICTURES: Garsi Lotfi
Sport
Bassem falls agonisingly short of victory on Day Two

Qatar’s Bassem Hassan Mohamed put in a spirited display with his 10-year-old grey gelding Argelith Squid, but had to settle for runner-up place, on the penultimate day of the Global Champions Tour last night. At the glittering Al Shaqab arena, cheered on by the holiday crowd, the local hope looked set to win the big event of the night, the CSI5* 1.45m Speed Class. Bassem and Argelith Squid cleared the course without any penalties in 63.28 seconds, but fell short of Cian O’Connor’s winning time by 0.17 seconds. O’Connor had finished his round with his nine-year-old bay Callisto earlier, as the Irishman set the pace after the favourites fell by the wayside. The 36-year-old cleared the tricky course with composure as Callisto combined perfectly. O’Connor collected €8250 for his effort. The third place went to Emily Moffitt USA in Cassius Clay, the pair coming home in 65.11 seconds. In the penultimate event of the night, Germany’s Daniel Deusser surprised the field with his talented nine-year-old-chestnut mare Happiness van T Paradijs. The World No. 5 stormed to victory in 24.47 seconds to clinch the CSI5* 1.45m event, taking home €8250 of the €25,000 prize money on offer, as he set up his weekend perfectly in Doha. Great Britain’s Laura Renwick and MHS Washington looked set to challenge for the lead, however galloped to the finish just shy of Deusser’s time, in 24.75 seconds. The Third place went to Sweden’s Olympic silver medallist Peder Fredericson with H&M Zaloubet, the pair finishing in 25.01 seconds. Tonight, the season will come to closure with Rolf-G?ran Bengtsson of Sweden and Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia battling for the overall title. The Grand Prix is nicely poised with Bengtsson looking for his maiden title, while Tops-Alexander goes for a record third crown. Bengtsson is five points ahead of Tops-Alexander, and the pair have been in this position before, with the latter finishing on top in previous years. Last night, Grand Prix top contenders Bengtsson and Tops-Alexander of Australia rode their first-choice horses in the two phase competition, with Casall ASK and Lintea Tequila jumping clear. The two Olympic riders looked pretty evenly matched, both picking up one time fault apiece and finishing just tenths of a second apart. Edwina and Lintea Tequila finished on 61.01s, with Rolf and Casall ASK finishing on 61.84s, giving an early preview into just how evenly matched the Championship contenders are. The triple combination course along the full length of the arena caused a few troubles, with the final element signifying the end of the first phase rolled by the lightest of touches. Earlier, in the 1.40m Against the Clock competition, Khalid Mohammed al-Emadi emerged triumphant. Al-Emadi partnered Tamira IV as the two came come in 36.68 seconds to take home 16,500 Riyals. Mubarak Yousuf al-Rumaihi (SIEC Cosmos Wijngaardhoeve Z) and Nasser al-Ghazali (Quel Homme) finished second and third respectively, to complete Qatar sweep of the podium. In the opening event of the day, the Invitational 1.20/1.25m competition, Abdullah al-Rajhi of Saudi Arabia got the better of the Qataris to come on top. Al-Rajhi astride H Zoe completed the course in 36.80 seconds. He was richer by 6,600 euros on the night. Qatari’s Mubarak Yousuf al-Rumaihi (Limoncello 6) and Salem Rashid Mohammed al-Marri (Marfurlong Magic) finished second and third respectively.   RESULTS Class N 3: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.20/1.25m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 1. Abdullah al-Rajhi, KSA (H Zoe) Time: 36.80secs Prize: 6,600 euros 2. Mubarak Yousuf A S al-Rumaihi, QAT (Limoncello 6) 38.07; 4,000 3. Salem Rashid Mohammed al-Marri, QAT (Marfurlong Magic) 38.59; 3,000.   Class N 4: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.40m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 1. Khalid Mohammed A S al-Emadi, QAT (Tamira IV) 36.68; 16,500 euros 2. Mubarak Yousuf A S al-Rumaihi, QAT (SIEC Cosmos Wijngaardhoeve Z) 37.72; 10,000 3. Nasser al-Ghazali, QAT (Quel Homme) 40.53; 7,500.  Class 01: Doha 2016 CSI5* 1.45m Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 1. Daniel Deusser, GER (Happiness van T Paradijs) 24.47; 8250 Euros 2. Laura Renwick, UK (MHS Washington) 24.75; 5,000 3. Peder Fredericson, SWE (H&M Zaloubet) 25.01; 3,750.   Class 02: Doha 2016 CSI5* 1.45m Table A: Against the Clock 1. Cian O’Connor, IRE (Callisto) 63.11; 8250 Euros 2. Bassem Hassan Mohammed, QAT (Argelith Squid) 63.28; 5,000 3. Emily Moffitt, USA (Cassius Clay) 65.11; 3,750 TODAY’S SCHEDULE 10:30 am: Invitational 1.20/1.25m - Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 12:15 pm: Invitational 1.35/1.40m - Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 2pm: CSI5* 1.50/1.55m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 5:15 pm GCT Grand Prix CSI5* 1.60m Table A: Two Rounds with Jump-Off, 1st and 2nd Round Against the Clock

Valkenswaard United rider John Whitaker (third from left) lifts the winnersu2019 trophy after, along with teammate Bertram Allen (third from right), they won the Global Champions League at Al Shaqab Arena yesterday. PICTURES: Garsi Lotfi
Sport
Valkenswaard survive Antwerp scare for GCL title

John Whitaker and Bertram Allen edge out Harrie Smolders and Jos Verlooy by 2.5 points; Paris Jets win Doha leg In a thrilling finale, Valkenswaard United duo John Whitaker and Bertram Allen edged out Antwerp Diamonds pair Harrie Smolders and Jos Verlooy to clinch the inaugural Global Champions League (GCL) title. At the Al Shaqab arena last night, the final leg of the first-ever GCL provided all the thrills and spills. In a dramatic first round of the final, one of the favourites Monaco Aces dropped out of the title race after Daniel Bluman and Apardi clocked up 12 faults despite teammate Leopold van Asten’s clear round on VDL Groep Miss Untouchable. It left Valkenswaard United and Antwerp Diamonds to battle out for the overall title in the second round and a lion’s share of the €4.5 million season bonus prize money. Even though Antwerp finished third and Valkenswaard sixth, the latter took the top honours having come into Doha with an eight-point lead. In the end, Antwerp ran Valkenswaard close by finishing with 326 points but fell agonisingly short of the champions by 2.5 points. Earlier, Valkenswaard had put up a shocking performance in the first round. Whitaker and Allen clocked up four faults each leaving the team just scraping into the second round. Antwerp had four faults in the first round from Smolders, although his compatriot Verlooy jumped clear. Whitaker, the 61-year-old, who partnered Allen, almost 40 years his junior, admitted the duo were lucky to emerge as the champions. “In a way it was disappointing to let our fans down today after having put up a really good show all through the season. We were also lucky to make the second round today, but we hung in there and are delighted with the result,” the Brit said. Allen, though, was delighted with the outcome and gave Whitaker the credit for guiding the team. “I knew I had to do something in there. I don’t know what happened in the first round but my horse wouldn’t respond. But she did very well in the second round. We’ve had a great season and very pleased with the result,” the Irishman said. Meanwhile, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Nicola Philippaerts of Paris Jets walked away with the Doha leg title. However, they could only finish sixth overall with 272 points. It was a good warm-up for Bengtsson, who is in contention for the Global Champions Tour title along with Edwina Tops-Alexander in tomorrow’s final. “It’s a great result for us in the league. We didn’t get going initially but we had a good shot in the final here in Doha. It was exciting jumping today. We tried to put more pressure on our opponents and we were lucky the way things went for us,” Bengtsson said. Hosts Doha Fursan Qatar took the 10th spot, but hung on to their overall ninth place. The pair of Hamad al-Attiyah and Ali al-Rumaihi committed 13 penalties combined, which scuppered their hopes of finishing the podium.      Only eight teams went into the second round. Bengtsson and Philippaerts performed excellently, clearing rounds without any penalty. The second place in Doha went to Cannes Stars’ Roger Yves Bost and Marco Kutscher.   Overall final rankings 1. Valkenswaard United 328.5 2. Antwerp Diamonds 326 3. Monaco Aces 315.5 4. Rome Gladiators 299.5 5. Cannes Stars 274 6. Paris Jets 272.5 7. Shanghai Swans 261 8. Cascais Charms 254.5 9 Doha Fursan Qatar 246 10. Madrid in Motion 243 11. Miami Glory 243 12. Vienna Eagles 241.5   RESULTS Global Champions League of Doha 1. Paris Jets — Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (Clarimo ASK) and Nicola Philippaerts (H&M Zilverstar T) Time: 153.57secs. Prize money: €60,583 2. Cannes Stars — Roger-Yves Bost (Qoud’Coeur de la Loge) and Marco Kutscher (Clenur) 160.92 secs. €40,583.             3. Antwerp Diamonds — Jos Verlooy (Caracas) and Harrie Smolders (Emerald N.O.P.) 12 penalties. 152.99 secs. €26,583.   Class N1: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.20/1.25m Table A: Against the Clock 1. Meshari al-harbi (Saudi Arabia) BMC White Nose 71.81 seconds. Prize money: 3,300 QR         2. Mubarak Yousuf A S al-Rumaihi (Qatar) SIEC Cosmos Wijngaardhoeve Z 71.98 secs. 2,000 QR 3. Khalid Hamad al-Attiyah (Qatar) Viking D. 73.35 secs. 1,500 QAR.   Class N 2: Doha 2016 Invitational 1.35/1.40m Table A: Against the Clock 1. Nasser al-Ghazali (Qatar) Quel Homme. 82.78 seconds. Prize money: 4,950 QAR 2. Hamad Nasser al-Qadi (Qatar) S I E C Lonnie. 85.50 secs, 3,000 QAR 3. Rashid Towaim al-Marri (Qatar) Beyonce. 90.61secs, 2,250 QAR.   TODAY SCHEDULE 2 pm: Invitational 1.20/1.25m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 4 pm: Invitational 1.40m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off 6pm: CSI5* 1.45m Two Phases: A + A, Both Phases Against the Clock 8pm: CSI5* 1.45m Table A: Against the Clock

Left photo: Rolf Goran Bengtsson, Right photos: Edwina Tops-Alexander
Sport
Tops-Alexander eyes history, Bengtsson aims to get third time lucky

‘I think Rolf has a lot of experience, which definitely is a big strength, and he has been trying to win this title many times. He has been so close so I know it’s important for him to win. We have been in similar positions already a few times though I was ahead of him and ended up winning. My tactic is just to do my best and be on the podium’ Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden are locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the Global Champions Tour crown, the final leg of which will take place this Saturday in Doha. The splendid Al Shaqab arena is the fitting venue for this engrossing battle, which started in Miami in April. But after 14 legs, there is just five points that separates the leader and second placed. Bengtsson is on 272 points, ahead of Tops-Alexander, who is on 267. It’s too close to call but Tops-Alexander has the experience to pull it off on Saturday night at the Grand Prix of Doha. The 42-year-old, married to Global Champions Tour president and founder Jan Tops, is no stranger to being at the sharp end of the grid having won the title twice, and will make history should she secure a third win of her career. On the other hand, Bengtsson will be hoping to break the drought, having finished third and second in 2015 and 2014 respectively. The Swede is a silver medallist at the 2008 Olympics, and also in the team event at the 2004 Games. The pair has been in this position before, with Tops-Alexander finishing on top in previous years. But the Aussie knows it won’t be easy. She is under no illusions just how tough it will be, and remains focused at the challenge. “I think Rolf has a lot of experience, which definitely is a big strength, and he has been trying to win this title many times,” Tops-Alexander said. “He has been so close so I know it’s important for him to win. We have been in similar positions already a few times though I was ahead of him and ended up winning. My tactic is just to do my best and be on the podium. “Although five points doesn’t sound like much, with the drop off scores it does work towards Rolf so I have to have a very good result on the day to win. But anything is possible and there is only one of us that can win and one of us to be second,” she added. With Bengtsson confirmed to bring his formidable stallion Casall ASK, and Tops-Alexander riding her top Olympic mare, Lintea Tequila, it will be a battle of the highest class to see who finishes on top this season. “She won here last year in Doha, and she’s had an amazing year. I have a fantastic groom and management,” she said. “I feel good, my horse is in fantastic shape – she was at the Olympics and came third in a show a few weeks ago. It’s exciting, I think Rolf is in a slightly easier position as basically I have to be on the podium, so I have a lot of pressure but that’s what makes our sport so exciting. I have to try to do my best and stay very focused,” the two-time added. For Bengtsson it was so-near-yet-so-far in the past two seasons. The 54-yaer-old had to win in Doha to clinch the title last year but fell short as Luciana Diniz snatched the crown with a victory at Al Shaqab. The Sweded is hoping to make amends this year. “The final in Doha will be special and it would be a dream to take the title. I’ve been in this position twice before so I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky! Edwina is an amazing rider so I know it’ll be tough. But Casall is better than ever and I know together we’ll pull out all the stops at Al Shaqab,” said Bengtsson. The two in contention will be joined by the very best riders in the world, all vying for the top spot in the Grand Prix and the lion’s share of the €450,000 prize purse on offer. On top of that, the overall LGCT Ranking bonus prize fund of almost €1 million will be divided, with riders using the final in Doha as their last chance to change the order up and down the leaderboard. Other big names competing will be World No.2 Simon Delestre of France, No. 6 Germany’s Daniel Deusser, No. 8 and Rio Olympic Team Gold Medallist Kevin Staut from France, No. 9 Marcus Ehning of Germany and No. 10 Britain’s Scott Brash. Before the marquee event, tomorrow the competition will open with the final of the inaugural Global Champions League, the team based event. Current leaders Valkenswaard United are in pole position going into the final on a total tally of 309.5 points. The combination of John Whitaker and Bertram Allen has proved formidable in the debut GCL season, and they have won three of the team’s four wins (Miami Beach, Hamburg and Vienna). They are set to make history by becoming the first winners of the GCL. 12 teams will be in action to open the three days of top level equestrian competition. Home team Doha Fursan Qatar are in ninth position with 231 points. Olympic rider Ali Yousef al-Rumaihi and young talent Hamad al-Attiyah will carry the hosts’ hopes tomorrow.

 (Top photo) Qatari riders (from left) Hamad Ali Mohamed al-Attiyah, Faleh Suwead al-Ajami, Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani, Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab Omar al-Mannai, Longines Global Champions Tour President and Founder Jan Tops, Australian rider Edwina Tops-Alexander and LGCT Sporting Director Marco Danese at a press conference at Al Shaqab yesterday.   (Bottom photo) Qatari rider Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani (left) and Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab Omar al-Mannai.
Sport
Global Champions Tour set for thrilling finale at Al Shaqab

Sheikh Ali will compete in front of home crowd at Al Shaqab with his top horse, First Devision on Saturday The magnificent Al Shaqab arena is once again set to host an enticing Global Champions Tour finale. Being the final stop of the 15-city equestrian tour, Doha is where the climax takes place. Once again the title battle is nicely set up, with two riders challenging for the overall crown – Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden and Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia. Bengtsson is just five points ahead of Edwina and they will go face-to-face in Saturday’s Grand Prix, which will unveil the new champion. But for the locals, it will be Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani, who will be the centre of attraction. The Qatari rider was the country’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics earlier this year. The top-ranked rider Qatari perhaps needed no more bigger motivation to perform at the Rio Games. The 34-year-old put in a strong performance at his debut Olympics finishing sixth individually. In the team jumping event, Qatar came ninth. Although, Sheikh Ali is at 20th position in the GCT rankings, ruling him out of the overall title, he could spring a surprise by winning the Grand Prix of Doha this Saturday. Sheikh Ali will compete in front of his home crowd at Al Shaqab with his top horse, First Devision, giving local fans the chance to witness their heroes in action for the first time since the Olympic Games. Talking about what it meant to be back in Qatar and riding, Sheikh Ali said: “We are honoured to have this event in Qatar, this is the final, it’s in my country – we will do our best to perform well. It is an international event and will be broadcast around the world.” The euphoric memory of carrying the Qatar flag at the Maracana Stadium still lights up Sheikh Ali’s face. “It was a proud moment to represent Qatar and it got even better when you get to be the flagbearer at the Olympics. It pushed me to perform well because of that feeling I was carrying the Qatari flag,” he recounts. Sheikh Ali said the Olympic experience will serve him good for his confidence, given that he was not far away from winning medal. “That we came close to a medal at our debut at the Olympics gives us a lot of confidence and we are happy that we performed very well at that level. Some of our riders missed the qualification given the time pressure, but in the end we were not very far from a medal and we are proud of our first performance at the Olympics,” he said. The 2014 Asian Games gold medallist said qualifying for their maiden Olympics itself was a big achievement. “We were better prepared for Rio. It was difficult given that there were 15 nations from the Arab and African region competing to qualify for the one qualification spot. It was difficult. Even though there was a big gap of 15 points between us and the second team,” he said. Now Sheikh Ali will be hoping he can sign off the season on a high by winning the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha on Saturday. Meanwhile, Omar al-Mannai, Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab spoke about the importance of hosting the prestigious final event of the international calendar in Doha. Al-Mannai said the Global Champions Tour gives Qataris a unique opportunity to experience a world class equestrian event as the country builds on its involvement in the sport. “Qatari riders benefit to the maximum from events such as these here in Al Shaqab. We are trying to promote the level of organisation and the level of the riders and we would like to be the lighthouse of equestrian in the Arab world, and in The Gulf,” he said. “We also want to do more not just for the riders but for all those connected with the event. It is also the first time that we have people from the Emirates and Oman participating in organisation of GCT and League. This event helps us reach the highest level of organisation,” he added. Longines Global Champions Tour president and founder Jan Tops spoke of the significance of returning to Qatar, and Al Shaqab hosting the final event for the third year running. “It is very special to host the final here at Al Shaqab. The facilities here are first class. It’s a beautiful arena, great stables for the horses and facilities for the grooms. To have here two riders who can win the title, and it will not be decided until the last round – it’s not often in sport you can have a final like this, but we’ll keep the suspense to the last moment for the fans around the world,” he said. Before the Grand final on Saturday, the championship will open tomorrow with the first ever final of the Global Champions League (GCL), where one team will make history by winning the title for the first time. 12 teams will be in action to open the three days of top level equestrian sport in Doha. Current leaders Valkenswaard United are in pole position going into the final on a total tally of 309.5 points. The combination of John Whitaker and Bertram Allen has proved formidable in the debut GCL season, and they have won an incredible three of the team’s four wins (Miami Beach, Hamburg and Vienna). Home team Doha Fursan Qatar, who are currently in ninth position with 231 points, will be in action with Olympic rider Ali Yousef al-Rumaihi and young talent Hamad al-Attiyah to compete.