Hussein Tahar AL SABA, Saudi Arabia (Long Jump)
Born 14 November 1979, Al Dahran, Eastern Province
The 9th of 10 children (4 brothers and 5 sisters); his father married two wives; employed by the Army.
Coach: Sahil Hamid
Hussein Tahar Al Saba comes from a sporting family. His father and a brother played football while two other brothers are keen on athletics. With little surprise he started with football, a sport he still likes very much, but making the team was hard and he spent far too much time on the bench for his liking.
So Al Saba decided to give athletics a go when his brother, Tawfik, invited him to try it at the local Nadi Al-Khaleej club at the age of 13. He first tried the 400m, the High Jump and the 110m Hurdles. His potential was noticed by the new head coach from Algeria, Messaoud “Mahfoud” Bouhouche, who directed him towards combined events. After a few years, he was asked by the club president, Prince Nawef, to do the Long Jump, as the club did not have a representative in the event.
In 1996, Al Saba broke the first in a long series of records, when he landed at 7.25, a new Saudi junior record. He was sent to training camp in Taif to prepare for the Pan Arab Junior Championships, in Syria, but family problems recalled him home, preventing him from taking part in the event.
Under the guidance of Bouhouche, Al Saba improved by half a metre the following year and started reaping his first international laurels. After jumping a legal 7.73 in the qualifying rounds of the Pan Arab Championships, in September 1997, in Taif, he landed at 8.01 (wind-aided) to clinch gold. The following month, he placed 2nd at the Gulf Junior Championships in Dubai (7.76w).
At the end of high school, Al Saba wanted to train to become a sports teacher, but his grades were not good enough for a place at the appropriate college. He then registered at King Saud University, Riyadh, but stayed only a week. It was far from home (400km) and he did not like it. Medical college did not work out either, so he eventually joined the Air Force, which he saw as the only choice left to him.
In April 1998, Al Saba won a bronze medal at the Gulf Championships in Muscat (7.56). He was then supposed to take part to the World Junior Championships, in Annecy, France, but his passport got lost in the federation office and he could not make the trip. At the end of the year, he fell while playing football with friends and sustained a calf injury that required surgery, leaving him out of athletics for four months.
In 1999 Al Saba had his first legal 8m jump at the Doha meeting (6th with 8.00). He then won the Pan Arab Games, in Irbid, Jordan, at the beginning of August (7.93) before managing to make his way to the Final of the World Championships, in Sevilla, with 8.06. It was a performance that he was unable to reproduce in the Final and he finished 12th with 7.62. “Sevilla was too big a competition for me,” Al Saba reflected. “I didn’t have enough experience.” He continued until the end of the season, winning the silver medal at the Pan Arab Championships, in October, in Beirut (7.81).
Disagreements between the athlete and his coach led Bouhouche and Al Saba to part company. Romanian coach Bedros Bedrosian, a former international triple jumper (17.27 in 1984) was hired by the Saudi federation to take over in February 2000. After a training camp in South Africa in March, Al Saba set a new PB at the Gulf Championships in Kuwait in April (1st with 8.15). One month before the Sydney Olympic Games, he created a big surprise by jumping 8.33 for victory at the Asian Championships, in Jakarta. This performance marked the beginning of an unchallenged domination on the continental scene (3 Asian Championships and 1 Asian Games gold from 2000 to 2003). But it would not translate on the global stage.
Coming to Sydney with the No.8 ranking on the IAAF Top Lists, Al Saba was troubled by sciatica caused by recent long flights from Frankfurt to Djakarta and to Sydney. Two weeks were lost in treatment and easy training. On 25 September he could not break 8m and ended up 18th in the qualifying rounds (7.94).
In 2001, Al Saba took part in indoor competition for the first time. One week after a 7.90 performance in Sindelfingen, Germany, on 4 March, he could do no better than 7.53 for 11th at the World Indoor Championships in Lisbon. An 8.31 jump in Doha propelled him to 4th best performer in the world that year. Three other results above 8m followed (8.08 in Athens, 8.10 in Paris/Saint-Denis, and 8.04 in Oslo).
Just before the 2001 World Championships, in Edmonton, Al Saba was left training on his own in Canada as his coach had visa problems and arrived only the day before the qualifying round. He managed to advance to the Final (7.83) but could not raise his level and finished only 10th with 7.90. In September, a trip to Australia followed, for the Goodwill Games, where he placed 3rd (7.97). Al Saba then stopped training and took part in the Pan Arab Games with little preparation on 2 October, in Damascus (7.86 for 3rd).
In 2002 Al Saba was left without a coach after Bedrosian went home for a vacation but did not come back. For a while Al Saba joined the group of sprinters trained by American coach Darrell Smith. In his early outings, he was 2nd at the Gulf Championships in March (7.90w against 8.18 for countryman Mohamed Al Khuwailidi) and 3rd at the West Asian Games, in Kuwait, in April (7.55).
In June, Al Saba travelled to Romania for a one-month training camp but he sustained a knee injury and was out for three weeks. He managed to be back on track for the second part of the season, successfully defending his title at the Asian Championships, in Colombo, on 12 August (8.09), before placing 4th at the World Cup, in Madrid, one month later (7.92) and closing with a season’s best and victory at the Asian Games, in Busan, on 12 October (8.14).
In 2003, Al Saba was still training by himself and the Saudi federation decided to send him for four months to the United States to prepare with Mike Powell. On 1 June, in Carson, he achieved a promising 8.23 but, for his debut in Europe, in Madrid on 19 July, he suffered injury on his first attempt and rushed to Valencia, where his team was based, to see the physio for treatment. Even though he finished 5th (8.10) at the World Championships, in Paris, five weeks later, his best ranking so far in a global championships, his performance left him deeply disappointed. He had lost a few precious days due to injury and felt he would have been fine had the championships taken place two weeks later.
Just one week later, he started an impressive series, winning the Arab Championships, in Amman, on 6 September (8.30w), placing second at the World Athletics Final, in Monaco, on 13 September (8.30), before claiming gold at the Asian Championships, in Manila, on 23 September (8.23) and at the Gulf Championships, in Kuwait City, on 8 October.
2004 began as another great year. In his first meet, in Modesto, California, on 8 May, Al Saba established a national record of 8.35 before jumping a wind-aided 8.41 and legal 8.22 in Carson two weeks later. He also competed in Lausanne, in July, (8.19) and Linz in early August (8.13).
The second best performer of the year behind Dwight Phillips, of the United States, he was expected to be a major contender for the Athens Olympics. But he did not appear in Athens, and was not to be seen for many more months, having been withdrawn from the team and suspended for allegedly failing a drug test at the end of 2003. However, it transpired that sanctions were not sought after by the IAAF because of technical irregularities in the sample analysis. But only late in 2005 did Al Saba become aware that he was cleared to compete.
Al Saba started the 2006 season training by himself in Saudi Arabia, where he recorded a couple of 8m jumps (8.00 at the Army Championships on 18 March and 8.02 in Riyadh on 5 April). He then joined Mike Powell in June but his preparation was affected by hamstring problems. However, Al Saba managed to produce his best effort when it mattered, during the Saudi trials for the Asian Games, with an 8.25 win that left countryman and new Asian record holder, Al Khuwailidi, out of the team. On 9 December, in Doha, he managed to defend his Asian Games crown for his return to international competition (8.02).
In 2007 Al Saba was again sent by his federation to the US in June, which deprived him of competition opportunities before the World Championships, in Osaka. His argument was that he was sent to California too late in the season. The major meets of the West Coast (Modesto, Carson, and Eugene) had already taken place. June appears to him more like a time to compete on the European circuit, which he could not do because of the training camp in California.
For his first outing, at the World Championships in Osaka, he could do no better than 7.84 for 11th, after qualifying for the Final with 8.01. However, he later came back as a medal provider for Saudi Arabia, with his subsequent titles at the World Military Championships, in Hyderabad, on 17 October (8.04) and at the Asian Indoor Games, in Macau, on 31 October. At the Pan Arab Games, in Cairo on 21 November, he picked up the silver (8.10) after losing gold to Al Khuwailidi (8.19) on the last attempt.
During the winter, Al Saba started working with a new coach, Algerian Sahil Hamid (2.14 in High Jump in 1978). While there won’t be much to remember about the Saudi’s indoor season – he finished 3rd at the Asian Indoor Championships with 7.72 and was eliminated in the qualifying rounds of the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, where Al Khuwailidi clinched a bronze medal – Al Saba then made a strong return to become one of the major attractions of the 2008 summer.
He opened his season just five centimetres short of his lifetime best, landing at 8.31 at the Saudi Club Championships mid-April, but the performance was slightly overshadowed by Al Khuwailidi’s 8.37 at the same meeting. He then made a name for himself on the European circuit when, taking advantage of Irving Saladino’s injury, he claimed a last-round victory (8.21) in the first leg of the Golden League in Berlin. He carried on with a second victory the following weekend in Oslo (8.19).
Although his quest for the jackpot ended mid-July in Rome (third with 8.08), Al Saba’s newly gained consistency around 8.20 (four times at 8.19 above) made him a serious contender for a medal in Beijing. But in China, pressure proved too much for Al Saba who had his worst showing of the year, finishing 11th with a poor 7.80m. The shape was good indeed as just 10 days later, he won the Zurich Weltklasse with a 8.35m season’s best before taking second place at the World Athletics Final in Monaco (8.13).
The winter break was a bit longer than usual as Al Saba got married in December 2008, but this didn’t prevent him from being ready for the season’s early start as he took another Gulf Championships title with an 8.15m best effort in Qatif on 29 April, followed by another gold at the Arab Police Championships in Riyadh on 11 May. After the local season reached its end, Saba carried on with two training camps to prepare for the World Championships in Berlin: one in Saarbrucken (Germany) and then another in the Czech Republic. His best outing so far was an 8.26w/8.20m in Madrid on 4th July, but Al Saba is not yet back to his 2008 level.
1997: 7.73A / 8.01Aw; 1998: 7.70; 1999: 8.06; 2000: 8.33; 2001:8.31; 2002: 8.14;
2003: 8.30; 2004: 8.35 / 8.41w; 2005: 7.86; 2006: 8.25; 2007: 8.10; 2008: 8.35; 2009: 8.26w/8.20
1997 1st Pan Arab Championships (8.01w)
1998 1st Pan Arab Junior Championships (7.41)
1999 1st Pan Arab Games (7.93)
1999 12th World Championships (7.99)
1999 2nd Pan Arab Championships (7.81)
2000 1st Gulf Championships (8.15)
2000 1st Asian Championships (8.33)
2001 11th World Indoor Championships (7.53)
2001 3rd Goodwill Games (7.97)
2001 10th World Championships (7.90)
2002 1st Asian Championships (8.09)
2002 1st Asian Games (8.14)
2002 4th World Cup (7.92)
2003 1st Gulf Championships (8.10)
2003 1st Pan Arab Championships (8.30w)
2003 1st Asian Championships (8.23)
2003 5th World Championships (8.10)
2006 1st Asian Games (8.02)
2007 11th World Championships (7.84)
2007 2nd Pan Arab Games (8.10)
2007 1st Asian Indoor Games (7.93)
2008 3rd Asian Indoor Championships (7.72)
2008 11th Olympic Games (7.80)
2009 1st Gulf Championships (8.15)
Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2007-2009.