DUBAI: A galaxy of stars, including Paralympic and world championship winners, will return to their favourite hunting ground as the emirate gets ready to host the season-opening 15th Fazza International Para Athletics Grand Prix – Dubai 2024 at the Dubai Club for People of Determination grounds from Tuesday.
The event, which is set to witness 573 athletes from 71 nations in action for four days, holds significance in gaining important world ranking points on the road to Kobe 2024 World Para Athletics Championships in May and Paris 2024 Paralympic Games in August besides celebrating its 15th anniversary, a milestone the local organisers are immensely proud
The star-studded line-up includes legends like Marcel Hug of Switzerland, a six-time Paralympic champion and a regular at the Dubai Grand Prix, who will be challenged by legendary British wheelchair racer David Weir.
Weir, one of the most successful and celebrated Para athletes in the history of the sport with 10 medals, will be making his first appearance at the event and his presence will make the men’s 400m T54 races the highlights of the championships.
The women’s field includes greats including Great Britain’s wheelchair racing legends Catherine Debrunner (women’s 400m, 800m T53) and Hannah Cockroft (women’s 100m, 800m T34) who will be aiming to extend their good run in Dubai. They already have had a fabulous start to the season with gold medal-winning shows in the 12th Sharjah International Open Para Athletics Meeting 2024.
Young Indian team
India has sent a relatively smaller second-string team of 12 members, sans their Paralympic and world champions.
Some of the names in the team included young national champions throwers Prince Kumar and Hem Chandra, who also won a gold at the Indian Open Para Athletics International Championships 2023, besides long jumper Rakesh Bhatt.
While teams like Great Britain, Japan, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia have sent sizeable numbers of athletes, the hosts will be fielding the biggest team of 47 with their Paralympic star Mohammed Alhammadi leading the charge.
Alhammadi to lead UAE
The five-time Paralympic medallist will be in action on the opening day in the men’s 800m T32 wheelchair race, challenging himself and his rivals including Paralympic champion Walid Ktila from Tunisia.
Alhammadi will be aiming to have a better week after his bronze medal finish in Sharjah. “The wheelchair races have become more competitive now with technology playing a big role in the power and speed of the racers. I hope I can have a good time here, a competition in which I always enjoy participating. It’s going to be good races with a lot depending on how we tackle the wind,” he said.
While athletes praised the weather and track conditions, Paralympic star Cockroft was looking to build on a good start to the season.
“I have been competing in these championships (Dubai) for eight years now. It’s always a good time to figure out where you are and where you need to work on going forward. It’s a good track and always promises a good combination of different countries, and different competitors, so you always going to get a good race here. The event is well organised and so, we are confident that the races are going to be well-run and it’s a good opportunity to go quick in bright weather,” she added aiming for a repeat of her golden show here. Cockroft had three gold medals at the 12th Sharjah International Open Para Athletics Meeting 2024.
Besides, there will be also a few who will be aiming to make a mark on the big stage and learn to compete alongside the stars.
Iran’s Roya Beikpourtanha was all excited to make her debut at this important event. “It’s awesome to be here. I am super excited to be here. The track looks good and the weather too. I hope I can put up a good show in my event,” said Beikpourtanha, a three-time national champion in Iran who will compete in women’s 100m T44. Iran will have three more women players in their team.
The championships were postponed for a day due to bad weather conditions.