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In Saudi Arabia, triathlon may be a relatively new sport – or three sports in one – but it is spreading rapidly in a country where people are increasingly encouraged to shake off a sedentary lifestyle and practice physical activities.
There is no better promoter for the sport, among women and men, than Arwa Al-Amoudi, head of the women’s committee of the Saudi Triathlon Federation and a triathlete herself.
“I started triathlon in 2017. Before that, I was a runner. I was the type of person who would overtrain and then get injured,” she said. “But when I heard about the sport of triathlon, you know you have to swim, cycle and run, I said, okay, let me try. And that’s why I tried triathlon from 2017 then got hooked just because of its diversity you never get bored, every day you have different training in different sports.
While running remains his strongest discipline, Al-Amoudi has now embraced all aspects of triathlon.
“In fact, each of them gives me a different type of pleasure,” said the 35-year-old Jeddah resident. “But if we’re talking about specifics, I’d say it’s (running) the easiest thing for me to improve, just because I have a long history in this area, years of running. Not only that but also my build, I tend to be small and short so it’s easier for me to go faster and faster compared to people who are bigger in shape and density.
Arguably, swimming is the most difficult of the three sports in which to excel for most newcomers.
“I would agree with that,” Al-Amoudi said. “In swimming, I would say if the person doesn’t have that basic foundation, from an early age, it would be a bit more difficult to develop at a later age. But lo and behold, I started swimming later, and what I had to do was invest more time, of course, in swimming, compared to other people who have been swimming for years and years. years. But then, at the end of the day, if you’re consistent, and that’s the beauty of triathlon…it’s all about consistency, if you’re consistent about it, then you’ll see the improvement.
Al-Amoudi’s role in the national apex body has two main purposes.
“The first is to raise awareness of the sport of triathlon, particularly within the female community, and generally within the wider community,” she said. “The second thing is, of course, that we want to recruit talented women with a focus on the younger generation, because we have a long-term vision of having people who represent us abroad, where they can also win and get podiums one day.”
With these medium and long-term plans in place, the federation set up a 21-day training camp last month for 10 of its most promising triathletes, six men and four women.
Abha’s choice was very deliberate, Al-Amoudi said.
“It lasted three weeks and the reason it was in Abha is because it’s different from other cities,” she said. “Most of our athletes come from the western region, from Jeddah or Riyadh, and from Al-Sharqiyah. There are a few who live at high altitude, but the majority they live in these big cities. The trick is is that with these cities, they are at sea level and then when you go to Abha, it is at a higher altitude.
“So when you train at a higher altitude, the air pressure and density decreases, making it harder for the lungs to work or making it harder for you to take in oxygen,” he said. she adds. “So we take these athletes to train at a higher altitude, so they can train their lungs to improve their oxygen delivery. So when they run at sea level, it becomes a lot easier.
“As long as our athletes are benefiting from it and then taking advantage of these workouts, I think they will see marginal short-term and long-term benefit.”
Already, Al-Amoudi sees a growing interest in the sport, despite his relative infancy, especially among women.
“In fact, we can already see that the sport is developing, because of (the) local initiatives. Also, with the support of the federation and the events they run throughout the year, you see an increase in attendance from event to event,” she said. “You will also see diversity, whether local or expatriate, whether female or male. The beauty of triathlon is that it’s an individual sport, but you can still do it as a team or as a relay team.
“Sometimes we see a family joining a team. Thus, the son would swim, the father would ride a bicycle, and the wife or daughter would run.
It’s about building a community of triathletes, which the federation wants to promote in the field.
“Of course it’s part of our long-term plan,” she said. “From now on, we’re trying to build the community, find the talent and of course, get our triathletes exposed. The good thing the federation does (are) the races, locally. So people have a feeling of how these races are run and there they get the exposure, to race with different people. Not only that but also our athletes, some of them, race overseas and with that , they will build their experience.
On a more competitive level, Al-Amoudi is keen to point out that while there are events in the GCC and across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is increasingly hosting enough races for its growing population of triathletes. .
“Yes, and there are competitions at the regional level, but also when you look at the local level here in the Kingdom, the federation has done an incredible job, and in the fourth quarter we have several races for everyone here, and the beauty is that he is in all places,” she said. “So in the fourth quarter, we will have a race in Jeddah, and we will have a race in Riyadh, and we will also have races in the region from the east.
“Sometimes, of course, people want to compete regionally and globally, or outside the Kingdom, but where the federation has done an amazing job is in offering or contesting races here locally. So a person like me, I don’t need to travel many times outside of Saudi Arabia just to run. When I want to run more, I can gain experience…running here.