Cheered by her parents at the Natatorium of the Olympic Park Swimming Centre in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, 16 year old girl, Lara al Yafei, wrote a new chapter in Oman’s Olympic history on Sunday at the third Summer Youth Olympic Games (YOG), which began on Saturday. Lara became the first-ever Omani girl swimmer to compete at any Olympics, and marked her debut in a spectacular style by finishing third in her opening heat of the 50m breaststroke event.
Lara, who had a good reaction time to the start of her race (0.69s), clocked her personal best of 37.35s to take the third spot among eight participants. Her start was the 13th best among the total 43 participants.
China’s Muyan Zheng won the heat with a time of 33.23s. With only the best 16 advancing to the next round, Lara’s timing placed her overall 36th. Lithuania’s Agne Seleikaite was the best qualifier with 31.55s.
Speaking to Muscat Daily, Lara said, “It is a great honour for me to represent Oman at the Youth Olympic Games. I can’t describe in words how wonderful it is to be part of this event and to be competing against the finest athletes from the US, Russia, Canada, Britain, China and Germany. It is such a great opportunity and one that I will always remember and cherish.”
The teenager started swimming at age of five and was picked into the national team only three years back by the national coach Kamal Khoumeri of Algeria. Lara is, in fact, the first girl to have been drafted into the national team and till date is the only girl swimmer to represent Oman at international meets.
A student of ABA Oman in Muscat, Lara said, “The hard work I’ve put in over the last few years has been well worth it. I couldn’t have reached this far if it wasn’t for the support and dedication of my coach, the Oman Swimming Association and the Oman Olympic Committee.”
Following her personal best time on Sunday, Lara is now hopeful of coming up with another personal best on Thursday when she competes in the 50m freestyle.
Lara’s countrymate, Shihab Alaa Din Fayez, will begin his campaign on Tuesday when he races in the boys’ 50m freestyle heat followed by 100m freestyle race on Thursday.
Oman has sent a five-member squad at the YOG, which includes two swimmers, two athletes (Mohammed al Suleimani and Ali al Balushi) and a windsurfer in Mohammed al Balushi.
Modest start by Mohammed
Elsewhere, at the sailing arena at San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Mohammed al Balushi, the 15 year old Omani, was placed overall 17th among 24 participants after the conclusion of the third race of the men’s windsurfer-Techno 293+ on Monday.
Balushi had finished 12th in the opening of the 12-leg series on Sunday and then followed it up with a disappointing 22nd in the next race, also on Sunday.
At the end of the first day, Balushi, who at 15 is the second youngest participant, was placed overall 19th but a much-improved 14th-place finish in the third race on Monday saw him climb to 17th with a total of 48 points and a net score of 26. The final and 12th race of the event will be held on Friday.
Suleimani and Ali in good shape
With the athletics events starting only on Thursday, Oman’s Mohammed al Suleimani and Ali al Balushi had good training sessions under their respective coaches.
Suleimani will compete in the 2,000m steeplechase event on Friday while Ali will race in the 200m opening heat on Saturday.
Earlier, during the opening ceremony on Saturday, Suleimani was the flag-bearer for the sultanate. Oman delegation is led by OOC board member Saada al Ismaili. OOC secretary general Taha al Kishry, who is also the director-general of Asian Swimming Federation, attended the opening ceremony.
For the first time in the history of the modern Games, the opening ceremony was held in the street, with the celebration open to all – and over 200,000 people showed up for the massive party.