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His childish and infectious smile conceals a steely grit and determination of a 15 year old boy. A teenager from the wilayat of Musannah, Mohammed al Balushi, along with the national windsurfing coach, Sultan al Balushi, depart for the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, on Wednesday, to compete in the third Youth Olympic Games (YOG) with a hope to script a new chapter in the sultanate's sailing history.

When Mohammed enters the waters to take part in the Techno 293+ category at the YOG on October 7, he will become the first sailor from Oman Sail's ambitious programme to compete at any Olympics.

Undaunted by the task to compete at such a grand stage, Mohammed confidently said that he was looking for a top-ten finish on his YOG debut.

In an exclusive chat with Muscat Daily ahead of his departure, Mohammed said, 'I am hopeful of a top-ten finish, may be even among the best five at Buenos Aires.'

And the eyes of the teen were gleaming with confidence as he talked about his aim, taking even his long-time coach Sultan by surprise.

Sultan did hint that the weather conditions in Argentina would suit the capabilities of Mohammed and he could end up anywhere between 13 and 19th among the 24 competitors in the Techno 293+ category.

'I have been put through intensive training since my return from the world championships in Latvia in August. I feel good and I am ready to prove my credentials in Buenos Aires,' said Mohammed.

Mohammed admitted that he was taken by surprise on being picked ahead of his teammate, Omar al Qartoubi, for the YOG. But having been selected, he is now ready to give his best after gaining exposure of competing at Asian and world-level regattas over the past one year.

'I have been training hard with my coach Sultan, who had spotted me way back in 2014. Over the past year and a half, I had competed in five international regattas and got some encouraging results including the win at the Mussanah Race Week,' said Mohammed.

Sultan was all praise for his ward and said, 'Mohammed is an example of dedication and commitment. He is just 15 and the competition at the YOG will feature windsurfers till the age of 18. The YOG experience will help him a lot and he is certainly one of our main bets in windsurfing at the 2024 Olympics.

The national coach said, 'The Oman Sail programme for windsurfing was launched in 2014 and over the years we have shortlisted prospective candidates for the YOG and senior events. There was a definitely a close race for the spot in Buenos Aires. Omar [al Qartoubi] is equally good but what tilted the scales in favour of Mohammed is his strong show in light wind conditions that we are likely to have in Argentina.'

'We are leaving for Buenos Aires on Wednesday so that we get enough time to acclimatise to the conditions and also overcome travel fatigue,' he added.

Windsurfing was initially introduced in Oman in 2012 with the arrival of Turkish coach Koray Ezer, who continues to guide the windsurfers.

Ezer said, 'Mohammed has displayed lot of talent and with age on his side, he is a huge prospect in the coming years.'

It was only in August that Oman Sail officially revealed Mohammed as the participant for the YOG. Oman had earned its spot at the YOG when it was awarded a special 'universality place' in recognition of the youth team's impressive performances at international YOG qualifying regattas since 2016.

Announced by World Sailing, universality places are awarded by the IOC only to athletes meeting the required technical and eligibility criteria.

After the YOG opening ceremony on October 6, the men's and women's windsurfing competition, raced on the Techno 293+ will start the next day.

Windsurfer fleets will sail slalom and fleet racing courses.

The YOG brings 32 sports together in a unique multi-sport event for young athletes who are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in high-level competitions while also engaging in a Culture and Education Programme (CEP) focused on the Olympic spirit and its values, skill development, well-being and healthy lifestyle, social responsibility and expression through digital media.

Buenos Aires will welcome sailors across five events in 2018. The men's and women's Techno293+ fleet will feature 24 athletes each, the kiteboarding events will welcome 12 in each fleet and the Nacra 15 will see 14 boats and 28 athletes on the startline.
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Publication:Muscat Daily (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Sep 26, 2018

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