Dubai 2023 GP: Paralympic stars return to Dubai; Alhammadi to lead local challenge

DUBAI: Paralympic stars will return to one of their favourite hunting grounds when the Dubai 2023 World Para Athletics Grand Prix 14th Fazza International Para Athletics Championships will begin at the Dubai Club for People of Determination grounds here on Sunday.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the championships will have around 700 Para-athletes from 66 nations vying for top honours. While for many Dubai 2023 Grand Prix will serve as a season opening event, others will aim for minimum entry standards to qualify for the upcoming World Championships in Paris and Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

Five-time Paralympic medallist Mohamed Alhammadi will lead the local challenge and compete in men’s 400m and 800m T34 wheelchair race and would hope to analyse his form at the event.

“I am not focusing on my result or timing here. This is the start of the year and a Paris 2024 qualification year, so I want to analyse my form, wheelchair, and position in this championship,” Alhammadi who had a decent campaign at the recently held Sharjah International Open Para Athletics meeting 2023.

“This is a big competition and its good for me to test my skills and wheelchair. I have been looking to change my wheelchair for some time now. This event will give a good idea of my wheelchair, my hand position and where I need to make the changes.

“The competition is wheelchair racing has become wider and its not about Walid Ktila and me, there are many others who can give a tough fight like athletes from Thailand, Canada. Even China is competing after a long time in this championship, so it will be nice to see everyone perform here,” said the 37-year-old star from Al Thiqah Club who will have to face a strong challenge from his arch-rival Walid Ktila, who opened the season with twin gold at Tunis GP.

Alhammadi will be joined by former Paralympic medallist Noura Alketbi (women’s shot put F32) and Sara Aljneibi (women’s javelin, discus throw F33) besides home-grown stars like Siham Alrasheedy (women’s discus throw F57) and promising Mohmmed Albalushi (men’s shot put and Club throw F32)in the 55-member UAE team.

Alrasheedy said one of her goals in the championships would be to better her personal best throw of 26.98 metres in discus that she achieved in the 2019 Dubai World Para Athletics Championships.

“I have got closer a few times and would like to reach that mark at the Fazza-Dubai Championships next year. My goal is to break the 28m barrier,” the Dubai Club trainee had said.

China Para athletes return to action

Among the top names, eight-time Paralympic champion Omara Durand (T12), the only Cuban athlete in the Grand Prix, is expected to steal the show in women’s sprints, while Britain is expected to rule the T34 wheelchair races with seven-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft will face strong competition from compatriots Kare Adenegan and Fabianne Andre.

The limelight will be on the 70-member China team who are ready to compete in an international meet after two years. The team have several Tokyo 2020 gold medallists including Deng Peicheng (100m T36), Di Dongdong (long jump T11), Liu Li (shot put F32) and Zhu Dening (long jump T38), besides top women Para-athletes including Xia Zhou (100m and 200m T35), Yiting Shi (100m and 200m T36) and Zhaoqian Zhou (100m and 1500m T54).

“We are very excited to be here. It’s been three years since the team last took part in Dubai, and for the last two years they have not participated in any international meet. This is an important event for us as we are aiming to get our young athletes get classified besides giving them exposure. The field looks strong; and it will be great opportunity for the players to test their skills and younger ones to get some experience,” said China coach Huang Peng.

Swiss Silver Bullet eyes improved timing

Meanwhile, Algeria will also field some top names including Tokyo 2020 Paralympic champion in the men’s 400m T13 Skander Djamil Athmani besides their throwers Asmahan Boudjadar and Safia Djelal.

Switzerland Marcel Hug, popularly known as the Swiss Silver Bullet, has been a regular to this event and aims to improve his timing. “This ground is one of my favourites. I hope to do well in all the races, especially the long-distance ones,” said Hug, a six-time Paralympic champion who will race the men’s 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m T54 races.

Hug is fresh from his record show at Sharjah International Open Para Athletics Meeting 2023 and gold medal win at the Dubai Marathon.

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