If you were stuck at work yesterday and didn’t have a chance to catch the action at the second day of the Special Olympics regional games, don’t worry the Abu Dhabi World roving volunteer reporters have all angles covered.
Here they give their personal impressions of a day in the life of the MENA Games:
TENNIS – Zayed Sports City
Volunteer reporter: Stephanie Hatton
Tennis has always been known for its personalities, whether it’s the showmanship of Agassi or the dogged determination of Federer. And the Special Olympics is no exception.
Zayed Sports City today played host to a range of tennis personalities from across Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the world’s best Special Olympics tennis players were on court and they had the crowds eating out of the palm of their hands.
Kicking off the day’s events was the Men’s Singles match between Christophe Mateu (Monaco) and Murtadha Makassees (Iraq). Veteran player, Mateu, 52, broke serve early in the first set to gain an impressive lead. His powerful serve helped him to a number of aces throughout the match, winning the first set 4-0.
Mateu’s lead continued into the second set until young Iraqi athlete, Makassees, fought back to break serve. Bouyed by the support of the crowd of local school children and the Lebanese Special Olympics Football team, the match gained momentum with Monaco’s Mateu eventually winning 4-0, 4-1.
After the match, Mateu spoke of his passion for the sport and drive to win, “I love tennis and I always want to win.”
Mateu’s hero is Rafael Nadal and he is certainly following in his footsteps.
Unique to the Special Olympics is the mixed singles tennis match. Today’s match saw the beaming Wolfgang Troger (Austria) take on the focused and determined Agnes Danna (Monaco).
A crowd favourite, Troger, 42, is a ‘real showman’ says his coach and he certainly lived up to his reputation, lapping up cheers from the crowd with arms raised encouraging more. Feeding off the energy of an enthusiastic crowd, the match went to a tie-break in the first set with Danna eventually winning 5-4.
The second set continued in much the same manner – hard fought and closely matched. It again went to a tie-break with some impressive rallies on display. Danna took the set and the match (5-4, 5-4) continuing Monaco’s dominance in Special Olympics Tennis.
In true Special Olympics spirit, Troger left the court jubilant despite the close loss. “I’m always happy when I play tennis. I love it when the crowd cheers me on. I like to hear my name, I like when they shout ‘Austria’ and I also like to win!”
BOCCE – Armed Forces Officers Club
Volunteer reporter: Ashaar Rizik Jumah
Around eight bocce courts were spread out across the huge area held indoors at the Armed Forces Officers Club. Bocce, which is an ancient Italian sport requires immense focus, strength and accurate distance visualisation. With the help of the Special Olympics staff, referees and volunteers, 25 games took place with around 55 athletes competing from 14 different MENA countries.
With chants and excitement filling the air, the games ended with 25 winners from diverse backgrounds; Algeria taking the lead with six wins and Morocco following closely behind with five.
I was particularly struck by a moment in the Iran and Palestine game – one of those heart-warming moments that typified the spirit of the games. Arefe from team Iran felt a bit flustered because the game was not playing out in her favour. Eventually, a time-out was called and the Palestinian coach brought some water and tissues for Arefe, offering her words of encouragements. Not only that, but multiple volunteers and athletes gathered encircling and motivating the vexed player. It was just one of the many small instances of sportsmanship that took place during the bocce game.
SWIMMING – NYUAD
Volunteer reporter: Liz Beneski
The pool at NYUAD proved to be a showcase for sportsmanship, camaraderie, and inclusion today, as the athletes were tested in races that featured single, team, and even mixed team efforts. One of the most heartwarming outcomes of today’s event was the absolute respect and support shown to all athletes by the athletes themselves.
Some of the races were trying, such as the 200m breaststroke and 400m freestyle, which could best most non-competitive swimmers. However, as spirits were tried and willpower tested, it was the roar the crowd, the shouts of encouragement, and restraint of the winners that fuelled every swimmer to get to the end of the lane. Every single swimmer was celebrated, encouraged, and in many cases, high-fived and hugged as they completed their race.
This demonstrates the beauty of these Games, for it is the pure spirit and passion for sport and self-determination, that, in the end is what defines “sport”. These athletes weren’t competing just for medals, national pride, or recognition, they were competing for the joy of swimming. Special Olympics athletes remind us all that it’s just being here, doing their best, for the love it.
The Algerian and UAE teams were great examples of that spirit; their efforts were stoic and many medaled – but their support for every member of the team was what made them memorable. Proud coaches, parents, and friends stood shoulder to shoulder, beaming as bright as the medals themselves.
FOOTBALL – Zayed Sports City
Volunteer reporter: Katie Haverluk
As the teams filed onto to the practice field to warm-up before competition, students from local schools filled the stands. Football is a favourite game around the world, and reportedly the Special Olympics’ most popular sport. This was evident today as fans gathered around the two pitches at Zayed Sports City to watch the UAE play Lebanon and Syria versus Oman.
As the game got underway, chants of U-A-E, U-A-E! from the student fans echoed around the pitch. Though they may have been watching a home team, they made sure to include cheers and chants for Lebanon as well, leaving no one out.
The UAE played well, keeping the ball on Lebanon’s side for most of the game. Despite their many efforts to manufacture a goal, Team Lebanon held strong and supported their goalie who was expert at blocking the UAE’s strong attempts. Not retreating in the second half, the UAE managed a great shot and made the only goal of the game. The crowd erupted in cheers, prompting the kids to maintain patriotic chanting for the rest of the game.
In the final moments, Team Oman, recent victors over Syria 3-0, came to watch and show their support. Singing a song of encouragement for the UAE – which gave everyone watching a smile – the final whistle blew and a celebration erupted for the home team. The UAE clinched the win, 1-0.
BOWLING – Zayed Sports City
Volunteer reporter: Mridhulaa Suresh
Khalifa International Bowling Centre in Zayed Sports City is no stranger to global bowling championships, but the championship that it hosted these last 2 days had to be the most extraordinary of them all, as the Special Olympics MENA Games took to the alleys.
The first thing you were struck by when walking into the bowling arena was the loud cheers from the lively audience. While other sports in the Games I’ve watched had supporters for one or two countries per game, the bowling arena resounded with an assortment of voices yelling words of encouragement for all players ranging from Macau to Canada. Some supporters held up boards for their team, others sang songs and chanted slogans. The audience adulation, clearly, had a huge positive impact on all athletes, with many of them taking a bow or blowing kisses after delivering the ball.
Even though the bowling tournament was very challenging, many teams notched up a fair few doubles (two strikes in a row) and turkeys (three strikes in a row). But it was the inclusive nature of the Special Olympics that continues to bowl me over, upheld at the bowling alley as it was when various players and their coaches walked up to their “opponents”, as if best of friends, to hail their victories. The joy on the faces of the athletes when they sent pins a-scuttling was enough to make anyone’s day.
The concentration, aim and understanding required to excel in this sport was apparent on the player’s faces. But this level of proficiency wouldn’t have been possible without their amazing coaches who guided and supported their team throughout the game and I’m certain will continue to do so on to the World Games next year.
POWERLIFTING – NYUAD
Volunteer reporter: Liz Beneski
Powerlifting is much more than just a bench press, squat or dead lift; it’s a test of the athlete’s training, determination and attitude. Today, Special Olympics athletes competed in powerlifting with impressive results.
Both men and women competed, with three attempts per athlete to best their own last effort. Weights lifted ranged from 30kg to more than 200kg – with impressive result. As each athlete approached the bar, it was evident that each lift was a moment of pure determination.
The UAE team was well supported by a most enthusiastic group of UAE military supporters, chanting songs, clapping, and at the end of each session, a welcome to join them in the stands. Their support was as relentless as it was valued, as athletes pushed through higher weight categories to achieve personal bests.
It was a reflection of these great fans’ respect for the Games as they roared approval for the athlete from Qatar, Mohammed Al-Mahmoud, when he successfully bench pressed a successive 70, 80, and then 90kgs. The fan favourite was by far the charismatic Omani lifter Ahmed Bait Rabeea, whom played to the crowd and engaged with his newfound fans. The Oman fans didn’t fail to support – leading the chants, clapping, and encouragement.
The powerlifters are a credit to the Games and themselves, as they demonstrated their inner strength for success over the “bar”, and raised the bar for all.