Countdown 18 days to go for the games of your life - DOHA 2006 By Chris Hoover



    Re-published courtesy of the Gulf Times (Nov. 13, 2006)

    2006AGAhmedShaheen.jpg 2006AGMubarakAlMuraikhi.jpg Think of Busan Asian Games 2002 and tenpin bowling, and it is vivid memories of Qatar's Mubarak al-Muraikhi and his cousin Ahmed Shaheen al-Muraikhi, posing on the podium with their silver and bronze medals respectively, which comes to one's mind.

    Carrying home hopes: Mubarak al-Muraikhi (left) and Ahmed Shaheen al-Muraikhi (right) are the brightest medal prospects for Qatar in the tenpin bowling competition of the Asian Games Qatar bowlers set sights on podium finish.

    Since then and now, the duo are going strong and are nursing hopes of repeating the same performances or doing better at the Doha Asian Games. With the local support behind them and expectations high, Mubarak and Shaheen are a certainty to emerge on the podium again.

    "For me, competing in front of the home supporters is a motivation in itself. It gives a huge psychological advantage to perform with people screaming on top of their voices and pushing you hard to go for a victory. I can't wait for the Games to begin," Mubarak told the Gulf Times.

    Looking back at Busan, Mubarak still rues his chance of not having clinched the gold ahead of Remy Ong of Singapore. If not for a lapse of concentration by the Qatari ace, he would have walked away with the gold medal. However, four years later, Mubarak has learned from his mistakes and is confident of a gold medal winning performance.

    "In Busan, on the first day I was fourth. I moved into pole position the next day and was there till the last game. I lost focus for a moment and my opponent (Remy Ong) took full advantage of my inexperience," said Mubarak.

    "My first Asian Games medal gave me joy but the other aspect is I lost out on a gold medal," he adds. Ahmed Shaheen is a double world champion and one of the best tenpin bowlers, Qatar has produced. He rates his Busan bronze medal effort as something 'special.'

    Shaheen will be keen to better his Busan performance and work his magic towards doing better than the bronze effort. However, he could face some stiff challenge from the Korean and Japanese bowlers and an intriguing battle could be in the offing at home.

    "We have a good team and the training is going on very well. We have a chance to win some medals, though it may not be gold. Since this is a new bowling centre, we have not had enough practice on it. Anyway we are confident of doing well in front of the home crowd who will be there to support us," explained Shaheen about Qatar's prospects.

    The 1999 world champion has been vigorously practising with his teammates and all of them have one goal which is to be amongst the medals. "We have been training and involving in mental games to be prepared for the Games. We have six quality players who can win medals for our country. It is no longer Mubarak and myself who are expected to win medals. We will have a tough time at the Games as there will be stiff competition from other countries, but we are capable of winning a couple of medals," Shaheen added.

    Talking about the preparations put in place by the Qatar bowling team, he said that they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that their medal winning prospects get all the support. Two coaches are fine tuning the skills of Qatar's bowlers. William Hall of the US and Gian Franco Buffa from Canada, are the two coaches who are at the helm of the Games preparations.

    Buffa praised the talent and efforts of the Qatari bowlers. Apart from the preparations on the bowling lanes, there is a 'Bowler Map Gold' software which analyses the movement of the bowlers to help them improve their game.

    "The training is going very well and we are in the peaking stage right now. When the Asian Games starts we should be ready for the big prize. Our chances are pretty good as we have the home field advantage, so we feel that we have a little edge over the other teams," said Buffa, a former Canadian national player.

    Dwelling on the competition from the other teams, Buffa said, "Definitely there is going to be some stiff competition from Korea, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore who have some good bowlers in their ranks. UAE also has great bowlers and they would be coming here with the intention of beating Qatar," Buffa added.

    Throwing light on the software, Buffa explained, "Using the software we film the bowler's action. Once we sit down with him and start analysing the mistakes in his technique, we can correct it. We also look at how a ball is released from the hand and whether it is correct and other minute details."

    "Bowling has become a popular sport in Qatar and they have some brilliant facilities. This new centre is tremendous and people here enjoy the sport very much. We have some very good young players who are still in the university, but it is difficult to get them out consistently. The future looks bright for Qatar when these young players perform on the big stage," Buffa said.

    Apart from Mubarak and Shaheen, Qatar has other talented players who could make their mark at the Games. "We have six potential champions in Qatar right now. We hope that one of them would be on top of the game during the championship and will win some medals for the country."

    Talking about the pressure the bowlers could face from the home crowd, Buffa said, "There is bound to be pressure on the players but our goal is to win gold medals. It depends on how you play on the day. Anybody can come out and play really good on their day. Hopefully it is going to be one of our bowlers who will do that. I am looking forward to the Qatar winning more than one gold medal, which the team is capable of doing, with the talent that we have." The available technology in Qatar has received high praise from both the coaches. And according to them Qatar is advanced in terms of technology when compared to other countries.

    Mubarak Mishlesh al-Hajri, Board Member of the Qatar Bowling Federation, is confident of the duo doing Qatar proud in Doha.

    "Ahmed Shaheen and Mubarak have done Qatar proud by winning medals in the last edition of the Asian Games in Busan. They have performed exceptionally well and this time too we can expect medals from them," Hajri said.

    With few days left for the Doha Asian Games to begin, the bowlers are training hard. With the best of technology, best coaches guiding them and add to it the talent of the Qatari bowlers, the medals are sure to be in the kitty.

    The women's category will witness a clash of the titans with giants Korea and Malaysia in action in the lanes at the Qatar International Bowling Centre.