By Sports Reporter/Doha
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games will mark the first time the Olympics are held in South America and will see over 10,000 athletes from 206 nations compete in Rio de Janeiro. The best athletes from around the globe will challenge themselves to the absolute limit of their ability before a global TV audience of 4.8 billion people.
Qatar will send its biggest delegation to the Olympic Games since its debut in Los Angeles 1984. Thirty-six Qatari athletes will compete in seven sports – athletics, swimming, shooting, handball, equestrian, table tennis and judo.
To support its athletes on their journey to Rio, QOC has launched the #YallaQatar campaign across its social media channels with the aim of showcasing Qatar’s athletes and their incredible feats. The ‘Olympic Dreams’ film series profiles each team and athlete, and explores the highs, lows, motivations and dreams of Qatari Olympians.
Coached by former Olympic show-jumping gold medallist Jan Tops, who won gold in the team jumping event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, the Qatari equestrian team has already made history by qualifying for Rio during the Furusiyya 2015 FEI Nations Cup Jumping series in Abu Dhabi.
Facing experienced teams from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatari equestrians stunned the crowds by grabbing the sole qualifying spot for the Rio 2016 Games from the event.
“Qualifying for Rio was an indescribable feeling,” says Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani.
“We worked hard to qualify and we succeeded. It was never easy because our group was very challenging and there was only one qualifying spot.”
Sheikh Ali, who is currently ranked sixth worldwide in the Longines Global Champions Tour, credits his early exposure to the facilities on his uncles’ farm as his reason for taking up the sport of equestrian.
“My uncles had a few race horses as well as everyday horses and that’s how I got my initial exposure. I started horse riding when I was 7 or 8 as a hobby on their farms,” he says.
The team’s well-earned victory in the 2015 FEI Nations Cup was built on their gold medal win at the 2014 Asian Games and led to another victory in the Barcelona 2015 Longines Global Champions Tour. Yet, despite their successes, they also face unique challenges that most athletes do not.
“There are difficulties in any sport, and for this sport the horse is the biggest challenge,” says Bassem Hassan Mohamed. “Equestrians interact with living things and our success depends on them. There is always something new with the horse, either it is injured or not feeling well psychologically. You need to understand your horse properly.”
Mohamed, 29, took up horse riding at the incredibly young age of 5, eventually training professionally with the Qatari Equestrian Federation and securing a litany of achievements including placing first in the Doha leg of the 2014 Longines Global Champions Tour.
By spending so much of their days together, Qatar’s equestrians and their horses share a special, strong bonding.
“During our training camp in Holland, we usually stay in the stables from around 8am up to 5pm,” explains Faleh al-Ajmi, “so we basically spend most our times with the horses and have a very strong connection with them.”
The team, which recently competed in the Madrid leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour from May 19th to 22nd, keeps a stringent training and competition schedule throughout the year to maintain their world-class level.
“We usually begin training in the summer, and from April to September we head to training camps in Europe, particularly in Holland,” says Khalid al-Emadi, 22. “We train six times a week for three hours daily.”
The demanding schedule is carefully charted out by coach Tops and his administrative team, so as to strike a delicate balance between a well-trained and exercised horse, and an exhausted one.
“A horse’s condition fluctuates from day to day and if there are any problems the rider has to find out by himself,” says Ali al-Rumaihi, 35. “You develop a better sense of the horse the more time you spend riding it.”
Like the rest of his teammates, al-Rumaihi started horse riding at a very young age thanks to his family’s support and his early exposure to horses. Al-Rumaihi went from riding his father’s pure-bred Arabian horses on his farm to winning gold in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, which he hopes to emulate in Rio 2016.
“The most important thing is to represent Qatar in the best way possible, and hopefully win an Olympic medal,” he says.
Long considered part of Qatar’s tradition and heritage, Arabian horses were thought to be used by Qatar’s founding fathers during their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire, ingraining them as part of Qatar itself. While Qatar’s equestrian team has already made history, the athletes too hope to make the podium in Rio.
“The Olympics is every equestrian’s dream,” says Hamad al-Attiyah. “It is my life’s biggest ambition and I will give it everything that I have.”
At only 20 years old, al-Attiyah is the youngest member of the team, yet he has already set on the path to a successful career after becoming the youngest rider in history to qualify for a World Cup final when he was just 18.
The closely-knit group spend their days and nights together, and their training has also helped them create a special comradery that bolsters their performance in the arena and lifts their spirit as a team.
“Winning as a team is something special for me,” says Sheikh Ali. “I have spent years with my teammates, we are like brothers. Our strong relationship makes for a strong, competitive team.”
Aside from the Olympic podium and the glory that comes with it, they are hoping their participation in the Olympics will inspire the next generation of riders, or athletes of other sporting disciplines.
“Qatar has never had an equestrian team compete at the Olympics. This will push young athletes and fans to take up the sport as a career,” states
Sheikh Ali adds, “I suggest anyone who has an interest in any sport to pursue it and represent your country because our country is a great supporter of sport.”
The Qatari equestrian team’s Olympic Dreams can be followed on the Qatar Olympic Committee’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels under the hashtag #YallaQatar. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games take place from August 5 to 21.
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