Olympic Summer Training in the Gulf Region is an Event UNto Itself

arab muslim athlete

As I write this it’s the fourth straight day of triple-digit temps in Amman, Jordan: just walking the dogs deserves a bronze medal.  But Amman air is bone-dry.  Add in Emirati humidity and you’ll quickly relate to the chubby Gulf children who choose cable TV over a bike ride.  Turns out not everyone is the Gulf is fat, nor are they all wiped out by the climate.

Triathlon is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, where athletes complete three continuous and sequential tests of endurance, spanning a variety of activities and distances. Swimming, cycling and running are the most common format, with racers competing for fastest completion time overall. In the United Arab Emirates the number of races and participants has been rising.Persistent training is pretty much prerequisite in the run-up to a race.  Prep is usually organized to allow for progressive cycling through specific aspects of each sport, with combination workouts and general strength conditioning added to the mix.  Training is intense and sporting clubs bespoke to each race are becoming increasingly popular.

The Abu Dhabi Tri Club is seeing a steady increase in its membership, especially during winter months in the build-up to two of the UAE’s larger competitions, Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT) and Tri Yas.

The 2012 ADIT triathlon course just moved to the public beach in central Abu Dhabi due to rapid growth in the number of racers. Their bike course leaves from the Corniche, and weaves safely through closed roads along the Arabian Gulf and through the city’s landscaped parks and gardens, ultimately reaching the sports and leisure landmass reclaimed from the sea: Yas Island.

Competitors in the 2012 Tri Yas swam in Yas Marina, cycled along the Formula One racecar circuit, and ran around the Yas Drag Center.

For the 110 competitors in the Olympics triathlon selected on July 9, pain will be real. The Olympic course includes a 1.5km swim, a 43km bike ride, and a 10km run.

There’s not much difference between amateur and professional training programs. Almost daily, for 30 weeks of the year, racers are swimming, cycling and running to muscle up for their next triathlon.

Every Friday, arriving pre-dawn to escape punishing summer heat and humidity, athletes gather with their bikes for a training session at the Abu Dhabi Tri Center.  Some do it for fun and fitness, others are preparing for a specific event. Commitment demands an investment of both time and money:  moisture-wicking sportswear, pricey footwear and aerodynamic helmets are required uniforms.

“Some people can train on their own, and some find it better to train in a group, knowing there are alot of people out there like them,” said club manager Christopher O’Hearn. “Most triathletes will face a weakness in one of the three parts of the race. Training helps them get past the trouble spots,” he told the National.

Triathlon first appeared in the Olympic arena at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney where 48 women and 52 men competed in separate competitions.  This summer’s London event will be closely watched by the UAE’s triathletes.

“I enjoy the Olympic distance,” said Garry Whyte, of Dubai. “It’s an all-out distance, which is full pace from start to finish.”

Whyte is training for Ironman Germany, a race with a 3.8 km swim, a 180.2km bike ride and a 42.2km run. He hopes to be in London to watch the Olympians battle for triathlon gold: women compete on August 4, and the men on August 7.

“It’s not about the bikes. It’s all about the swim and run,” he said. “Some of these guys can do the 10km run in less than 30 minutes. These guys are in a different class.”

Being good at swimming, cycling and running is only half the battle.

“It’s about lifestyle and nutrition and there are all the psychological factors,” Whyte told the National, “Quite a lot of it is psychological. When you’re on the starting line, even at the amateur level, it’s a nerve-racking thing.  You know you have to go the distance, and you know you can, but then you ask if you can do it well, and do it as well as the guy standing next to you.”

After reading that quote, I’m inspired.  I saddle up the dogs again.  We’re going to outwalk that neighbor boy and his goats.

Image of Muslim athlete from Shutterstock

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