DUBAI // Huge cheering crowds turned out to support athletes in Friday’s Ironman event, Dubai 70.3.
Spectators lined the streets around the city, in spite of road closures, to watch the competitors who would bike, swim and run.
The men’s event was won by Spain’s Javier Gomez, while Daniela Ryf from Switzerland won the women’s race.
Emirati athlete Ahmed Al Fahim came third in the UAE nationals category, shaving eight minutes of his previous Ironman time in Bahrain, finishing the course in 4:33.
A latecomer to the sport, the 37-year-old completed his fifth Ironman on Friday. Though finishing faster than in Bahrain, where he placed 10th in his age group, Fahim finished 22nd in Dubai.
“The competition was very tough,” he said. “There were many more competitors and the level was high.”
As far as Emiratis are concerned, said Al Fahim, this is a very young sport, which is made up of a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run.
“To the locals this is something very new,” he said, though organisers recruited many volunteers from the local community to engage them with the event.
It was encouraging to see more locals this time watching and supporting than usual. “It’s very rare to get locals,” Al Fahim said. “But there were many more than usual and the crowds on the running track cheering were huge, it was an amazing atmosphere.”
Amy Smith went to support her husband, who was racing in the event.
“I go to all his races here to support him,” she said. “I go through all the journey to ready for the race, so it’s great to see him cross the finish line. He has been training for this for the last six months so it’ll be a celebration to have got through the course today. It takes over their life to prepare for this kind of event with three skills. He literally trains six days a week, sometimes seven.”
Preparation for an Ironman requires discipline. “His nutrition has to be planned to the dot and his social life goes on hold when he’s preparing for a big race like this.”
Aline Mansouri’s six-year-old son Ahmed took part in the Ironkids fun run. “He loves to compete and it’s a really nice atmosphere to encourage him to take part in sport. It’s such a nice way to include kids in big events,” said Mrs Mansouri. “Kids can really be inspired when they feel the atmosphere and see what the athletes are doing.”
The event is one of several on the emirate’s race calendar and comes just a week after the Dubai Marathon.
“We are really lucky to have so many great events here,” said Martin Petersen, who has lived in Dubai for 15 years. A long time triathlete, he could only watch Friday’s event, still recovering from knee surgery.
“When I was first here, there weren’t big events like this and people had to travel for them, but there’s so much to choose from now, whatever sport you do, whether it’s the big cycle races, the marathon or anything else. There’s a definite cultural shift towards sport in recent years which has to have a great knock on effect to the community and inspire more people to get active in some way.”