Sports

The next Jamaican bobsled team? The Saudi snowboard squad

RIYADH — The Wall Street Journal recently profiled some ambitious Saudi Arabians as they look to set a new target for their country that is seeking to modernize itself: the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The desert kingdom has recruited coaches from throughout Europe and invested heavily in training as it looks to have seven skiers and snowboarders qualify for the 2022 Games, according to Stephen Kalin’s report.

“It’s the same concept,” snowboarder Failsal al-Rasheed told Kalin in comparison to the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, which inspired the film “Cool Runnings.”

“It’s inspiring how they did it and nobody thought it’s possible,” he told Kalin.

Most of the prospective athletes took up winter sports late in life, or only during family vacations abroad.

Saudi Arabia has seen a growing interest in hitting the slopes — Kalin reports that a private developer plans to break ground this year on an indoor ski slope that will cover 10 acres in a Riyadh shopping mall.

“The newly minted Saudi Winter Sports Federation, meanwhile, brought in Czech ice hockey coaches for a two-week training camp, although fielding a team proved too ambitious,” writes Kalin. “In a desert twist, team member Fayik Abdi—who fell in love with skiing at the University of Utah —is working with the world’s fastest sand skier to bring the discipline here.”

The Saudi team made a trip to the Swiss Alps this summer to train. While many observers aren’t giving them much of a chance, the attempt at Olympic greatness is a healthy push for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the Global Wellness Institute, Saudis are among the world’s most physically inactive people.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people in Saudi or in the world who will say, ‘What are those guys doing?’ Even my friend the other day said, ‘You’re going to lose,’ ” said Mr. Rasheed, in an interview last month. “I don’t care, I’m going to try to do it. It would be wonderful to qualify and prove them wrong.”

Full Wall Street Journal article (potential paywall).

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