The United Arab Emirates is sending its second female Olympic weightlifter to Rio 2016, after Khadija Mohammad placed 12th in the women’s heavyweight event at London 2012. While the UAE’s female weightlifting Olympic berth was granted to Ayesha Al-Balooshi, it was the result of a team effort.
The eldest on the seven-strong Emirati women’s weightlifting team that secured a spot at Rio 2016, 26-year-old Amna Al-Haddad, talked to StepFeed about how hard work, patience and a little bit of faith helped the team earn a spot for Al-Balooshi.
The UAE female weightlifting team left the 2016 Asian Championship, which was held in Uzbekistan this April, one rank short of qualifying to the Rio Olympics. While the continental qualifier was the team’s last chance at a UAE quota place in Rio, the Emiratis did not lose hope.
“It was disappointing, but deep down I felt that there will be change in the final results especially with a lot of scrutiny on doping, but we assumed we would know within the first week after the championships,” said Al-Haddad, who competed in Uzbekistan despite suffering an injury.
The news was not revealed until two months after the tournament. Female weightlifting quota spots were withdrawn from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Russia and Uzbekistan due to doping. The quotas were then reallocated, granting Emirati women a ticket to the 2016 Olympics.
UAE’s Weightlifting Federation had to determine who would head to Rio.
“The way I see it is, it was a team effort to compete in the Asian Championships. It doesn’t matter who gets to the Olympics and who does not,” Al-Haddad told Sport360 . “We are all Olympians because without us that one person would not be going there. Each one of us has contributed in its own way in qualifying for the Olympics."
The choice fell on Al-Haddad’s teammate, Ayesha Al-Balooshi.
“Ayesha has the longest experience in the sport of weightlifting in the UAE and had the highest rank at the Asian Championships among the girls,” Al-Haddad explained. Al-Balooshi had totaled 164 kilograms and finished with 22 points, placing 10th out of 15 women in the 58-kilogram division.
Still, Al-Haddad fulfilled her goal of qualifying to Rio 2016, which she had been pursuing for four years.
“My goal was to qualify. And qualify we did, as a team,” she says on her blog, 999Fitness.ae, which she has dedicated to promoting healthy living, sharing her journey and defying stereotypes about women in sports, especially strength sports.
Al-Haddad has gone a long way since being an unhealthy, inactive and depressed 19-year-old. After turning her life around, she became a Nike-sponsored Athlete and the first Emirati and GCC national to compete in the Reebok Crossfit Asian Regionals, plus the first and only woman to do so in a veil – quitting her job as a journalist at The National and picking up nine IWF-based event medals along the way.
Unlike typical professional athletes who begin their Olympic training as children, Al-Haddad beat the odds and reached international podiums despite starting as a young adult.
When she’s not lifting weights that exceed her own body weight, Al-Haddad is a motivational speaker and a writer who has made it her life’s goal to encourage physical and mental health.
The American University of Sharjah graduate has been trying to empower women, inspiring them to disregard social prejudice and take up all kinds of sports.
“Female athletes are slowly getting the recognition they deserve, but we struggle in finding funding compared to our male counterparts,” Al-Haddad said.
“First, being an athlete in general is not always perceived as a career, especially in the Middle East. Secondly, as a woman, I have to work twice as hard to get half of what men do through sports,” she told Emirates Women .
It comes as no surprise that earlier this year Al-Haddad was granted an Unstoppable award by Femina Middle East as a “pioneer in the fields of sports.”
Her next step now is to work as a consultant for sport entities and help with their projects in motivating youth to take up sports. Al-Haddad has set an example for people of all ages, genders, religions and financial status, inspiring them to pursue their ambitions regardless of the circumstances.
“Amna Al-Haddad, is a lot more than a Snatch, a Clean and Jerk, and a total in training or competition," she says . "So next time you ask, how much I lift? My answer is, I have lifted a nation.”