In a conference held earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's Paralympic Committee highlighted the achievements of the kingdom's para-athletes, such as winning the INAS World Football Championship – a competition for intellectually challenged athletes – three times in a row, in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
The conference also introduced the five athletes who have booked berths at the Paralympic Games for Rio 2016, happening from September 7 to 18 this summer. They are all currently ranked among the world's top fifteen para-athletes in their categories for 2016.
Fahad Al-Ganaidy, who is ranked fifth in the world, will compete in the 100 meter wheelchair race. Asaad Sharaheli, world’s fifth in long jump and first in triple jump, is heading for Rio’s long jump event. Meanwhile, Radhi Al-Harthi, Nour Al-Saneh and Jamaan Al-Zahrani will take part in the club throw event, 400 meter race and 100 meter race, respectively.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia has qualified four runners, a discus thrower, a shooter and a weightlifter to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games so far – all males however.
Saudi Arabia first competed in the Summer Olympics in Munich 1972 and sent its first Paralympians to Atlanta 1996. The kingdom’s athletes have brought home two bronze Olympic medals for equestrian, along with a silver for athletics. They have also won a gold and two silver medals in Paralympic athletic events.
As we await Saudi Arabia's performance in Rio 2016, here are the top Olympic and Paralympic moments in the kingdom’s history.
1. When Hadi Soua'an Al-Somaily won the first Olympic medal in 2000
After finishing in fifth place at the 1996 Olympics, Somaily returned to the Games in Sydney four years later and grabbed the kingdom’s first Olympic medal by winning silver at the 400 meter hurdles event. As the first Saudi to ever compete in an Olympic track final, Somaily was leading the final race in Sydney, but America’s Angelo Taylor surged forward towards the end of the race and crossed the finish line 0.03 seconds before Somaily. Hoping to convert his silver to gold, he headed to Athens 2004, where he lost in the semi-finals and ranked fifth.
2. And Khaled Al-Eid grabbed the second medal five days later
At the equestrian individual mixed jumping event at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Eid won Saudi’s second – and last – individual Olympic medal. He won bronze in a close call, as he was tied in the number of faults with the silver medalist, so the 0.14 second time difference put Eid in third place. His victory came four years after ranking 44th in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
3. When Osamah Al-Shanqiti won the first gold in 2008
Shanqiti won Saudi Arabia’s only gold Olympic or Paralympic medal at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, where he set the current world record for the men's triple jump in the visual impairment category (F12). The 2006 triple jump World Champion also won another medal in Beijing 2008, a silver at the long jump event.
4. Then Hani Al-Nakhli followed with another silver Paralympic medal in 2012
Nakhli won second place in the discus throw event for the seated division (F32-34) at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The 2013 World Championships bronze medalist has set and reset World Paralympic Records several times, ranking the world’s best F33 discus thrower in 2015 and 2016, and the third best javelin thrower in 2015.
5. When the equestrian team won bronze in 2012
Saudi’s 2012 mixed jumping Olympic team, consisting of Prince Abdullah Al-Saud, Kamal Bahamdan, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Abdullah Sharbatly, ranked third place at London 2012. In the individual event, Bahamdan was poised for a podium finish, but ended up in fourth place.
6. When Dalma Rushdi Malhas became the first female Saudi Olympic medalist
Urged by the International Olympic Committee, the show-jumping equestrian rider represented Saudi Arabia at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, where she won a bronze – the kingdom's only YOG medal to date. Malhas was set to compete in London 2012, however, she was forced to sit out on one of Saudi Arabia's most significant Olympic events after her injured horse failed to meet the minimum eligibility standards.
7. When KSA sent its first female athletes to London 2012
The kingdom finally gave in to international pressure and agreed to send two female Olympians to London. Despite runner Sarah Attar's last-place finish and judoka Wojdan Shaherkhani's fast defeat, the Saudi women were hailed with standing ovations. Their participation was merely symbolic considering their lack of preparation, as the decision to send them was declared three weeks before the games.