Doha: Oman's young Laser sailor Hussain Al Jabri left for Qatar's prestigious Sail the Gulf regatta last week with no expectations other than to develop and test his skills against an international fleet; however, he returned home yesterday as a champion after winning his class.
The 24-year-old Al Jabri's victory in the 14-strong eight-nation Laser Standard class fleet after four cutthroat days of 12 races at the Doha Sailing Club from February 20-23 was even more incredible since he had placed third going into the final day of racing.
Quietly confident that he could still improve his position, Al Jabri nevertheless found that the final day of the event was a seesaw of emotions and results. His hopes rocketed when he posted a second-place finish in the first race, soaring higher when he pulled off a magnificent bullet in the second round but crashing when he finished a disappointing seventh in the final race of the event.
"I went ashore trying to convince myself that despite the seventh-place finish, I had done my best to hold onto the overall third place and win bronze for my country," stated Al Jabri, who only started sailing 18 months ago.
But what Al Jabri didn't know at that stage was that his closest rivals, top two leading contenders Gajender Singh and Dharmender Singh Shauham from the Indian Army Team, had both retired from the first race of the day after being flagged by the jury with a DNE penalty for pumping in the tricky, light seven- to eight-knot wind speeds.
The penalty relegated the Indians, Singh and Shauham, to second and third overall, respectively, and left the way open for Al Jabri to leapfrog to the top of the leaderboard.
"I had been ashore for about an hour and was already de-rigging my boat when I got the news from the jury that I had won! Until then, I hadn't been able to smile, but then I just laughed and said, 'I love sailing! This is a sport where anything can happen!'"
Qatar's Sail the Gulf regatta was the first major regatta of the 2013 dinghy-sailing season, with 220 sailors from 21 countries competing in nine dinghy classes.
Al Jabri, who was up against sailors from Bahrain, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, the Netherlands, and Russia, consistently posted top results with typically smart tactics and a cool head to keep him in the top three places from the outset. On day one, he shared the lead on equal points with Germany's Alexander Maxmilian after scoring two seconds and a third in light 5–8-knot winds. Day two saw him in second place with a fifth and two-thirds, despite heavy 24-knot winds and tough conditions. On day three, he posted a fourth, third, and fifth place finish to position him in third place overall, going into the final three races on the fourth and final day of the event.
The Qatar championship win comes on the back of Al Jabri's win at the Singapore Laser Trophy last year. It is sure to prove a confidence booster ahead of the March 10 start of the 2013 Mussanah Race Week, Oman's premier dinghy regatta, where he will face an even larger and more competitive international fleet, which includes highly experienced teams from Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
Mussanah Race Week will, in turn, be viewed by Al Jabri as part of his crucial training preparations in Omani home waters for the Laser World Championships, which will be held for the first time in Oman in November this year. His ultimate goal is to qualify for a place in the Olympics.
Al Jabri, who is one of the fittest sailors in the Omani National Squad and known for his hard work, determination, and intelligence, is leaving nothing to chance. He has already declared that his training will start again first thing tomorrow (Monday) morning, when he will be back out on the water in Mussanah.
Rashid Al Kindi, Chairman of the Oman Sailing Committee and National Team Manager, was full of praise for Al Jabri: "Hussain is one of the most disciplined sailors in the team with regard to his training and fitness abilities. He is passionate about what he does and always aims to improve his performance. This event was a great platform for him to test his performance at an international level. This will help him gain more experience to compete on an Asia-wide and international level.