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Young Saudi gymnasts set their sights on Olympic glory

Shahla and Lana bonded over their love of gymnastics, and say they want make their country proud. (Supplied)
Shahla and Lana bonded over their love of gymnastics, and say they want make their country proud. (Supplied)
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06 Sep 2021 12:09:54 GMT9
06 Sep 2021 12:09:54 GMT9
  • Their determination and dedication was never in doubt but thanks to recent reforms, anything is now possible for the Kingdom’s young female athletes 

Deema Al-Khudair 

JEDDAH: There is no shortage of courage, determination, passion and dedication among the young Saudis who dream of becoming world-class gymnasts. And now, thanks to the social reforms that are taking place as part of Saudi Vision 2030, their chances of achieving Olympic glory have never been greater.

Despite little in the way of media attention, gymnastics has had a following in the Kingdom for more than three decades. The sport requires physical strength, agility and balance, and training typically begins at the age of five or six.
Coaches at Dynamic Code Center in Jeddah, which has been providing gymnastics training for 10 years, said that growing numbers of young Saudis are participating in the sport and showing potential.
Nada Nasser from Egypt, who has been a senior gymnastics coach at the center for three years, said she is proud of the dedication of her students.

“We have participated in competitions and championships, and won medals and achieved so much,” she told Arab News. “It’s an honor for me as an instructor to see this happening in the Kingdom.”

More generally, she said she is thrilled about the new sporting opportunities that have opened up for women in the Kingdom in recent years. She hailed the social reforms that are making this possible and which, she said, align perfectly with her goals as a gymnastics coach. Prior to the reforms few women participated in sports, Nasser said, but now “our goals are met.”

Gymnastics is a particularly difficult and demanding sport that puts a great physical and mental strain on athletes, she said, and yet the gymnasts she trains show great dedication and determination from a very young age, and are extremely passionate about the sport and artistic in their participation. The children she coaches spend about four hours a day practicing, she added, which involves great physical and emotional effort.

“They do feel pressure to not fall or get injured,” said Nasser. “Gymnastics relies on relative strength: The girl moves from the ground and up into the air — it isn’t easy. Saudi gymnasts are meeting these requirements; I see these traits here.”

Imamah Al-Samman is happy for her 10-year-old daughter Shahla Al-Ghamdi to pursue her gymnastics dreams.

“The more we read about what is happening at the General Sports Authority and the Saudi Gymnastics Federation, the more I see my daughter is supporting these entities,” Al-Samman told Arab News. She added that the youngster’s love of the sport began at the age of six when she began doing cartwheels and other moves with her siblings at home.

“She started showing that she wanted to do more and it was then that we decided that as long as she has that kind of passion toward this sport, it is better to practice it at a gym with a trainer,” said Al-Samman.

She signed her daughter up for a gymnastics summer camp at the Dynamic Code Center, where an instructor told her the youngster has great potential.

It’s an honor for me as an instructor to see this happening in Saudi Arabia.
Nada Nasser
Senior gymnastics coach

“She was very excited to pursue the sport she loves,” Al-Samman said. “I registered her with the talent group of the center, and she continued with their program until she reached level three.”

Banan Shalabi told Arab News that her nine-year-old daughter Lana Al-Najjar first showed an interest in gymnastics at the age of five. She had encouraged the youngster to try many sporting activities, at school and outside if it, but “none of these were gymnastics at all, and my daughter didn’t like them.”

Then Lana saw a gymnastics video, which sparked her interest. She felt a connection to the sport and told her mother she wanted to try it.

“As a parent you have to give your child all the support to help them reach their goal and choose the career they want to be in,” said Al-Najjar. “She sees herself as a gymnast and I’m supporting my daughter mentally, physically and even financially in order for her to reach the level she wants to reach.”

Shahla and Lana bonded over their love of gymnastics and have become best friends, and say they want make their country proud.

“We both have the same goal: To go to the Olympics together,” Shahla told Arab News.

“And to win the gold medal,” added Lana. “We’re gymnasts; we get to fly and touch the ceiling.”

Shahla added that gymnastics has taught them not to give up in the face of obstacles.

“Even when we fall, we stand up again and do it again,” she said.

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