Husein Alireza has continued to train through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s first rowing champion hopes to benefit from Tokyo Olympics delay


LOS ANGELES: Husein Alireza made history when he became the first Saudi rower to stand on the winners’ podium at a major rowing competition and brought a medal home to the Kingdom.

Now he is training to go further and become the first rower to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics and hopefully win a medal. 

Alireza was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics planned for this summer when the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

He was on his way to the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, California, when it was announced the Tokyo games would be postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19.

“You know we try to remain positive and realize that actually it’s an extra year to get even faster,” Alireza told Arab News. “For someone like me, who’s still improving, who hasn’t hit his peak, I have most to gain whereas some of the competition have plateaued at this point. So it’s a massive opportunity.”

Alireza began his athletic career at Cambridge University in the UK where he joined the college boat club as a social activity. 

But when his coach saw how quickly he was advancing in the sport, he suggested Alireza look to the international stage.

“At this point Saudi had never had international representation in rowing nor a federation so it was an exciting opportunity to make history,” he said. “But being the first wasn’t good enough. I needed to know I was capable of competing competitively at the world championship level.”

A year after securing retired Olympian Bill Barry as his coach, Alireza won bronze at the Asian Indoor Championships in April 2019 in Thailand.

He now hopes to go all the way in Tokyo, thanks to a ferocious training schedule.

“The average training day would have us do about 28 to 30 kilometres rowing in the morning,” Alireza said. “We do a strength workout in the gym in the afternoons. And to fuel all of that we eat anywhere between 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. So it’s a relentless sport.”

Alireza has continued his training through the pandemic. He said he is determined to do what it takes to be the best athlete he can be for his country.

“I don’t think I’ll regret trying and failing but I suspect I would always be haunted by a decision not to try at all.”