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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - HANGZHOU: The performance of young Saudi athletes at this year’s Asian Games so far has shown the world the support they receive from their country and sparked expectations of even better performances in upcoming international events.
Saudi participants in the 19th Asian Games in China have so far won 10 medals, including four golds — the country’s best performance in the Games since 2014.
Most of the medals were won in track and field, traditionally the Kingdom’s strongest area in the Asian Games.
Saudi Arabia’s medal tally at this year’s Games is already nearly double its total at the last edition of the event in Indonesia in 2018.
On Sept. 30, Yousef Ahmed Masrahi won Saudi Arabia’s first gold in the men’s 400m event with a time of 45.55 seconds, just 0.02 seconds ahead of Japan’s Sato Kentaro, who won the Asian Championship a few months ago.
The 35-year-old Masrahi had the fastest reaction time in the finals, proving age is just a number for him.
Martial artist Abdulmalik Al-Murdhi won Saudi Arabia’s first-ever medal in ju-jitsu on Wednesday, picking up bronze in the under-62kg category.
The 21-year-old runner Essa Kzwani won the Kingdom’s second gold in the men’s 800m on Tuesday. While the other finalists struggled to better their timing from the heats, Kzwani finished in 1:48.05, nearly a second faster than his time in heat one.
Niranjan Rajbanshi, treasurer of the Asian wing of the International Sports Press Association, was particularly struck by Kzwani’s performance.
“I remember there used to be very little Saudi Arabian participation in track events, but now they’re competing for gold medals. In fact, to see a 21-year-old Saudi win the medal against all odds is a good message for Asian athletics too. Other nations should learn from this,” he told Arab News.
Another two Saudi golds came from the equestrian team, along with silvers in the men’s 200m and men’s shot, and three further bronzes, in pole vaulting, the men’s jiu-jitsu under-85kg category, and the men’s karate over-84kg category.
Abdullah Akbar Mohammed, who picked up silver in the men’s 200m final, said the pressure took a toll on him as he missed out on gold by a whisker, finishing 0.03 seconds behind Japan’s Koki Ueyama (20.60 seconds).
“Honestly, I aimed for the gold, but the pressure of the race caused the loss,” he told reporters. “But I’m grateful for winning a silver medal. Thank God for the win. Hopefully, next time I’ll do better.”
“Next time” could be the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. Rajbanshi, for one, believes Saudi athletes have reason to be optimistic.
“There are talents, and with the support that Saudi Arabia’s government is giving, this is a good message for the Asian contingent as a whole,” he said. “We saw experienced Masrahi making a comeback, and a few days later the youngster Kzwani winning gold, too. We can expect good things to follow at the Olympics next year.”
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