Shinoona Al Habsi still remembers the day she saw Guzel Khubbieva for the first time…
The Omani sprinter was readying for her Olympic debut on August 3, 2012 in London. Clad in red hijab, she had already earned a celebrity status even before stepping into the track for the much-anticipated 100-metre dash.
As she was soaking in the instant stardom, her eyes struck on a muscular athlete who was warming up for the event. "It was Guzel Khubbieva, the former Asian Games 100-metre gold medallist. I watched her closely as she went through her paces. She was a top contender for the semifinal spot. But she didn't look nervous at all.
I couldn't speak to her at that time, but I dreamt of having a training partner like her," Shinoona recounted.
Two years later, Shinoona was in for a huge surprise as her random wish was realised by some quirk of fate.
The lady from Uzbekistan, whom she idolised during the London Olympics, landed in Muscat early in 2014 to train her! "Guzel was my rival in 2012, but I am happy to get her services as my coach in 2014. She is the best trainer I had in my career so far," Shinoona beamed after completing a training session at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.
Guzel had made her international debut for Uzbekistan in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was a forgettable outing as her 4X100 metre relay team could notch a poor 22nd place finish. Though she remained as the pillar of the relay contingent for some time, Guzel's aim was to become a sprinter. She announced her arrival into the international arena with a double bronze medal-winning feat (100 meter and 200 metre) in the 2003 Asian Championships in Manila. She went on to etch her name in athletics when she emerged the fastest woman athlete in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar. After a 13-year-long glittering career, she called it quits in 2013.
The veteran athlete now aims to use her rich experience to produce future champions. "I was a champion during the peak of my career. Now, I want to produce champions," she said.
Thus she began coaching Shinoona early in January 2014. Seven months down the lane, Guzel feels proud about her young ward's improvement. "Shinoona has got a huge potential. I am sure she will scale new heights in athletics soon." The 2014 Asian Games, to be held in the South Korean city of Incheon from September 19 to October 4, would be the first acid test for the coach and her ward. Guzel is fully aware of the gravity of the situation. That is why she insists on undergoing rigorous training sessions prior to the crucial meet.
The duo was in Salalah during the Holy Month of Ramadan, where they practiced in the evenings. "The first session would begin at 5.30 pm which would go up till 7 pm. The second would be held from 10 pm to 12 midnight," Guzel explained the schedule. The coach, it seems, is quite impressed with Shinoona's dedication and hard work.
"She is a committed athlete. She has the capacity to emerge as one of the top athletes in Asia. I hope she will reach the semifinals in 100 metres in the Asian Games in Incheon," Guzel said. Shinoona too believes she has become a matured athlete, thanks to Guzel's tough training sessions. "I am confident of putting a much better show in the Asian Games. My aim is to reach the semifinals in the 100 metre sprint, but I will push hard to make it to the finals."
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