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ABHA: For the 10 Saudi athletes specially chosen to participate in a three-week triathlon training, endurance is the key to success in a sporting challenge that few of their compatriots have ever attempted.

The first-ever training camp organized by the Saudi Triathlon Federation took place from May 8 to 27 in Abha, the capital of Asir province, with the aim of improving the fitness and fitness levels of the six male and four female triathletes, as well as building a strong team spirit between them.

In a triathlon, a multi-sport event still in its infancy in the Kingdom, participants must swim, cycle and run set distances with no breaks in between. The athlete who completes the three stages in the fastest combined time is the winner and therefore the transitions between disciplines – in which competitors must quickly switch from swimming to cycling, and from cycling to running – are unique. Sport.

The Abha camp was supervised by three coaches: a Saudi and two foreigners. In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Ahmad Hafiz, a federation coach with five years of experience in the sport, explained the criteria based on which the team members were selected.

“We select them based on their experience in the sport, their age, which must be under 30, their swimming ability and speed, as well as their experience in cycling and running,” did he declare.

To be considered, athletes had to excel in at least two of the three disciplines, and they had to be able to maintain certain cycling and running speeds and be able to swim 100 meters in 90 seconds.

“(Cycling) requires an experienced person who can generate 3.5 or up to 4 watts per kilogram and… in running, someone who can run 5 km in less than 23 to 24 minutes,” Hafiz said. . The last leg of a triathlon is where the action really heats up, he added.

“The racing starts when they go into transition, drop their bikes and put on the running shoes – that’s when the real racing starts,” he said.

There are three levels of triathlon: sprint, Olympic and Ironman. They each have different fixed distances to cover, but all are extremely challenging for athletes at that particular level.

The federation team was training for the sprint triathlon, which typically involves a 750 meter swim, often in open water such as a lake, sea or river, a 20 km bike ride and a 20 km run. 5km.

Abha’s unique terrain and weather make it a city like no other. At 2,200m above sea level, it is the highest major city in Saudi Arabia and the low oxygen levels at this altitude increase the challenge for athletes and ultimately their fitness level.

“We decided to come here and (work on) the physiological adaptation because of the high altitude and because of that I think they can have a good performance in the races in the future. International Triathlon Union around the world, and maybe even the next, or future, Olympic Games.

The 21-day training camp included eight workshops and regular training sessions at various locations across the city. Some of these were government-run facilities, such as the running track and swimming pools at Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, while some running sessions were also held at a nearby hotel gym. from Abha Airport and that cycling endurance training took place outdoors in places such as Monkey Road.

In recent years, an increasing number of women in the Kingdom have started and excelled in a variety of sports at national and international levels. In triathlon, Dina Al-Tayeb in 2018 became one of the first Saudi and Arab women to qualify for the sport’s most advanced level, Ironman.

“One of the main goals of this camp is to get more women into the sport,” Hafiz said.

The women’s team of the Saudi federation aspires to reach the level of Olympic qualification. The youngest member is Yasmeen Shaaban, 24, who joined recently and has been training for triathlon for 18 months.

“Triathlon is a sport for crazy people, as they say, because it’s crazy distances and it’s three different sports,” she said. “I believe it takes a long time for a person to get into sports, but once you get into it, it’s like an addiction – you just can’t stop.”

Last year, Shaaban competed at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in San Diego, Calif., and two weeks later she competed at Ironman 70.3 Egypt. The 70.3 refers to the total distance in miles the competitors covered in the three stages. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to qualify for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Another member of the women’s team, Madhawi Mitwalli, a doctor from Jeddah, said she has been in sports all her life and became interested in triathlons when she was looking for a new challenge.

“I often get distracted because I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” she said. “However, triathlon has helped me focus more because the training is different; like when we run, when we cycle, swim and sprint, I never get bored.

Mitwalli said sport complements her professional life and she has a message for all women in her country.

“I would like to inspire Saudi women to get into sports and not really limit themselves to their profession, their work and what they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do,” she said. . “Try something new and go for it and you’ll find yourself.”

While triathlon is still considered a novelty within the Saudi sporting community, the federation aims to produce athletes capable of competing in the sport at the Gulf, regional and, eventually, Olympic levels.

Abdullah Alireza, one of the most experienced members of the men’s team, who has more than nine years of experience in the sport, quit his job to start a sports business and become a full-time athlete.

“We are just getting started,” he told Arab News. “Sport is new in Saudi Arabia in general and most of the time we only compare ourselves to our neighboring countries which I think is not fair to us.

“I think we are capable of much more; we are capable of competing for gold medals at the Olympics, in any major tournament.

“I quit my corporate job a few years ago and started my own performance studio. What I personally want to do is become less of an athlete and more of someone who can actually build basic systems and bringing triathlon and sports in general to schools and clubs.

Alireza believes that one of the attractions of triathlon is that there is always something to look forward to that keeps participants engaged, and there are always new goals to achieve.

“What I love most about this sport is the journey,” he said. “It’s learning, practicing and competing, with the daily difficulties.”

The Saudi Triathlon Federation team will officially represent the Kingdom for the first time at the Triathlon World Championship Finals on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi from November 23-26 this year.

The federation also wants to promote the sport and increase its popularity by recruiting younger athletes, from the age of 12, especially those who can contribute to improving the standards of swimming and cycling.

“Over the past eight months, we have contacted schools and organized races, and we have given educational seminars on sports to teachers, schools and colleges in the Kingdom,” said Hafiz.

“You really have to be a good swimmer to be able to compete in the world of triathlon.”

Maria R. Newman