When Irving Saladino won the men’s Long Jump for Panama at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan, it cannot have entered his head that his performance in Japan would have an influence on the Pan Arab Games in Cairo three months later. But that is exactly what happened.
The 11th Pan Arab Games could hardly have wished for a more dramatic opening day yesterday (21). Although the crowd was sparse at the Military Academy Stadium, those who did turn up were rewarded with exciting finishes in the men’s Long Jump and 10,000m.
Mohammed Al Khuwaildi, in the colours of Saudi Arabia, did a Saladino by snatching the gold medal with the last jump of the competition and Mahbob Hasan, of Bahrain, won the 10,000m in a sprint finish down the home straight involving four athletes.
Just as Saladino had denied Italy’s Andrew Howe victory with his last leap in Osaka, Al Khuwaildi pulled the rug of success from beneath the feet of his compatriot, Hussein Tahar Al Saba. Leading with a fourth round jump of 8.10, Al Saba lost it in a dramatic last act as Al Khuwaildi registered 8.19.
“On my last jump I remembered Saladino,” the 26-year-old Al Khuwaildi said. “Before my last jump I said: ‘If Saladino can make it, I can make it also’.” While two Saudi athletes reached the final in Osaka, Al Khuwaildi was not one of them. Ahmed Bin Marzouq, eighth in Osaka, was not competing here while Al Saba was the other, finishing 11th in the World Championships.
Al Khuwaildi was eliminated in the qualifying round in Osaka. He had been unable to maintain his momentum from 2006, when he finished second to Saladino in the World Top Lists, with 8.48, and placed in the top three at two Golden League meetings, the World Athletics Final and the World Cup.
His employer, Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, had refused to grant him the leave from work from which he had benefited in previous years.
This restricted his chance to train and compete abroad. However, he did win the Gulf Military Championships, in Doha in April, the Arab Championship, in Amman in May, and the Asian Championship, in Amman in July. And now he has his first Pan Arab Games title, with a championship record, beating the 8.11 set in 1997 by Younes Moudrik, from Morocco. Defending champion Issam Nima, from Algeria, was third last night, with 7.98.
Hasan hangs on
The men’s 10,000m quickly developed into a race between five athletes as the lead group remained together from their early breakaway until the bell.
For most of the 25 laps, the work at the front was performed either by Hasan or by Algeria’s Khoudir Aggoune. As they came into the home straight, four runners - Hasan, Aggoune, Qatar’s Sultan Khamis Zaman and Saudi Arabia’s Mokaled Al Outaibi – had sight of victory.
Although Zaman, in his first race for three months following injury, sprinted from fourth off the bend into second place, he did not quite have the legs to catch Hasan, who won in 29:29.48. With Zaman second, Al Outaibi third and Aggoune fourth, the top four were covered by a mere 0.66sec.
At the previous two Pan Arab Games, in Amman, Jordan, in 1999, and in Algiers, Algeria, in 2004, the gold medal in the men’s 20km Race Walk had been won by Tunisia’s Hatem Ghoula. However, Ghoula chose not to go for the hat-trick at the end of a successful year in which he won the World Championships bronze medal, improved his African record over 50km (3:58.44), in Spain in March, and won 20k gold at the All Africa Games, in Algiers, in July.
Ghoula’s World Championships bronze was the medal that had been missing from his rich tally. For the young Arab athlete of today, such as Hassanine Sebai, whom he coaches, Ghoula is a model example of perseverance. He had competed in six World Championships without a medal prior to Osaka, starting with 32nd place and climbing gradually until he reached fifth in 2005.
Sent by Ghoula in his place, Sebai won the first event of these Games on the opening morning. It proved a comfortable victory, his 1:36.00 putting him more than four minutes clear of the runner-up, Mabrouk Salah, of Qatar, and Mohamad Ameur, of Algeria. “This is good for my CV, a good step forward for me,” the 23-year-old Sebai said.
In other events, Monia Kari, from Tunisia, retained her women’s Discus Throw title (52.79), Khalid Habash Al-Suwaidi, of Qatar, improved his own championship record in the men Shot Put to 19.56, and Fatma Dakouk, from Morocco, regained the women’s Long Jump title, although her 6.16 was way short of her championship record of 6.50.
David Powell for the IAAF