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DAY 1: VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHTS

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As competition drew to a close on the final day of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018, the Abu Dhabi World blog volunteers reported exciting action right up to the final buzzer. This is sport reporting with extra heart. Here is what went down on day 3:

BADMINTON – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter: Liz Beneski

Finals day at the Badminton courts, and the matches and players certainly did not disappoint. From the first match, it was a rousing session. High energy in the stands, which were packed with athletes whose competitions were concluded, but of course they stuck around to support their follow competitors.

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A big contingent from local schools led the crowd, as they performed the U-A-E chant, some foot stomping sing-a-longs, and even a Mexican wave. The UAE player was visibly touched – and waved emotionally back to her fans when the match ended. The Algerian team was there in force, and it was nice to say hello to some newly made friends from earlier in the week.

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There were some intense match ups; the men’s doubles match up of Bahrain and Oman had the importance of a centre court semi-final at Wimbledon for the fans; and the early Iran/Lebanon match got plenty of crowd affection.

This didn’t feel like badminton; it felt like a football pitch; and it was riveting. And loud. And irresistible not to join in. Rarely is pure happiness heard, but today, it was witnessed. The laughter and pure glee a wonderful gold and bronze medalist exuded was simply infectious; it was impossible not to join in for a few choruses of “eeee-ran, eeee-ran!” Which only tickled him further.

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But that Olympian summed up the Games this week – pure joy, and happy to share it with anyone whom will just join In. Life is Beautiful.

EQUESTRIAN – Al Forsan

Volunteer reporter: Katie Haverluk

Having also visited Al Forsan sports complex on Monday afternoon I can report an atmosphere buzzing with happiness, which continued overnight into Tuesday. Riders milled about proudly around the paddocks displaying medals won earlier in the competition around their necks. As they walked through the arena they were high-fived and congratulated on their success.

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Galloping into the next morning, teams arrived early for English Equitation. The athletes were greeted by volunteers and staff and it was apparent that they had warmed the hearts of everyone in the Al Forsan Equestrian arena.

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It’s easy to understand why. What Equestrian events may lack in thrilling excitement, it’s certainly made up for in charisma – this is due to the athletes themselves. Whether they are charming the crowd with smiles and waves, displaying great skill manoeuvring and riding the horses, or endearing us with a fabulous finishing bow, it’s the athlete’s personalities that shine through.

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Team Egypt, winning two gold medals, one silver, and one bronze on Monday, lauded the the organisation of the games. Speaking to me the coaches praised the organisation and hospitality they have received since arriving.

Thanks to divisioning, the competition among teams has proven to be uniquely level compared to other sporting events, and as well as clearly being very enjoyable helps the athletes go on a journey of personal discover and development.

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The event capped off with awards for each division. More medals, more accomplishments, and more gained from the experience. It is a win for everyone involved in the Special Olympics.

FOOTBALL – Zayed Sports City

Volunteer reporter: Ashaar Rizik Jumah

Football has always found its way to people’s hearts of various ages. Even though the ‘beautiful game’ is known for its globally-renowned stars and billion dollar leagues, the Special Olympics, for a short moment held its own in the entertainment ranks. 

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Green fields stretched across Zayed Sports City, one of the leading destinations for athletics and entertainment in the UAE. Around 8:45am the four teams started warming up for the final games: Lebanon vs Egypt; and UAE vs Bangladesh. The games started early in the morning with the sun’s rays starter to gently warm the lush, smooth grass and a light breeze playfully winding its way among the players.

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The first match was between the UAE and Bangladesh. It was competitive and fiercely contested since both teams fielding some vigorous athletes. As the stands filled up with students and volunteers, encouraging chants for both teams could be heard a mile away. Eventually, the game played out in Bangladesh’s favour 1-0. In the second match, despite all the injuries that befell the Egyptian team, the Pharaohs played efficiently and scored accurately which helped them win the game. 

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The atmosphere at Zayed Sports City was enthusiastic and energetic, and the patriotic chants were heard nonstop. The amount of effort all athletes have invested into the game was inspiring; not only that, but seeing the players and their coaches come together under a unified sport emblem was inspiring.

HANDBALL – Al Jazira Stadium

Volunteer reporter: Mridhulaa Suresh

The final matches of the handball tournament were held in the enormous Al Jazira Sports Club. I witnessed a particularly nail-biting match between Ivory Coast (CIV) and Oman.

The players lined up beside the court, stretching to prepare for their big match, you could hear faint murmurs of Arabic and French as the coaches whispered last minute strategies to their teams. As the teams came out on the court, their love for the game was apparent on their confident smiling faces.

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Then the match finally began, the ball raced from one end of the court to another, switching hands almost every second. The faces of the coaches were scrunched up in eager anticipation, the court resounded with the sounds of players yelling instructions to one another. After a long difficult struggle, the Omani team scored.

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The first point of the match was met with a thunderous applause. After the first point, the quality of competition had almost doubled, the players were done being clumsy, each pass was carefully calculated, eyes darted all over the court before a single move was made. But the Omani team proved their worth by scoring 2 more points, the scoreboard now stood at 3-0. CIV was now in a crazy frenzy, their hunger to prove their worth apparent in their eyes. With a skilful game they managed to get ahead. At half time the score board stood at an even, 8-8.

After the break, the stiff competition sustained, but a winner had to be declared, the Omani team with their proficiency and strong team spirit won the game.

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BASKETBALL – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter and photographer: Jill Bordelon-Munir

Twenty four minutes of pure heart…

Luck was on KSA’s side as they took home the gold medal in basketball at the Special Olympics MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018.

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They shot, guarded, blocked and monitored the movement of the UAE men’s team to perfection. What was striking was the spirit of one for all and all for one. Each team no doubt wanted to win, however, each shared emotionally in the elation of the win and sadness of the loss. It was remarkable.

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After feet touched the ground following the tip off, the ten players on the court for both teams were unbelievably fast, exhibiting great stamina late in the tournament. Each team kept scoring. The fans were cheering wildly. You could hear the hoarse voices from the chants in the stands. The UAE had met its match and KSA stayed ahead by a few points throughout the game.

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 Both teams were dribbling, passing and shooting, neither team giving up and fighing till the end. Waiting for the final buzzer was goose bump-inducing. KSA had prevailed and were bursting with happiness and singing with joy.

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They jumped up and then knelt to prayed to give thanks, knowing they worked together as a group of seven with five on the court at all times and accomplished something remarkable as a unified team.

It was apparent they’d realised that unselfish play can result in the greatest rewards.  Believe in yourself, believe in your team and believe in your opponent. Blessings do happen and KSA was blessed with the gold on Tuesday.