How does a man from the desert qualify as a skier forWinter Olympics? – just ask Fayik of Saudi

A Saudi man has done the unthinkable – he is the only man from a desert country to qualify as a skier for the Beijing Winter Olympics after only seven months’ training and during a global pandemic.

Fayik Abdi the first and only Saudi to have achieved this gargantuan feat, but the self-deprecating Abdi is eager to avoid the limelight.

“I don’t want this to be about me,” Abdi told Arab News ahead of the Games, which take place on Feb 4-20. “I don’t want the attention, I don’t want the spotlight.

“I want this to be about Saudi. I want this to be about other Saudis and I want to inspire them to find a passion, to do new things and tell them that anything is possible and nothing is impossible.”

Abdi’s tale of the unexpected began when the newly formed Saudi Winter Sports Federation offered him the chance of a lifetime last March.

The SWSF harbored a seemingly fanciful ambition of sending Saudi sports talent to the Winter Olympics and duly helped Abdi to fund top coaches, a training program and his travel to competitions.

The 24-year-old is no skiing rookie, though, having dedicated his life to the sport since taking it up at the age of four.

As such, he has great confidence in his ability and an innate cool-headedness.

“I’m going to stay relaxed,” he said ahead of his race on Feb. 13. “The only thing I’m nervous about is catching COVID at the Olympics or right before it, but I’m not as nervous (about anything else) as you might imagine.

“That’s kind of my personality.”

So how did a man from a desert nation become so captivated by skiing?

“My mother was a recreational skier and she taught me how to ski in Lebanon. Ever since then, I fell in love with the sport and have been trying to pursue it,” said Abdi, who was born in San Diego, California, to two Saudi parents, but who grew up in the Kingdom between the ages of three and 14.

“When I turned 14, I went to boarding school in Florida and wanted to be a professional football player. But to be honest, I kept getting injured playing football.

“I kind of had to give it up and said to myself: ‘I wanna go somewhere where I can ski.’ I felt like that was my calling.

“I went to the University of Utah in 2016. I studied criminal justice. If you ask ‘why?’, it’s because I wanted to study something relatively easy so I could ski,” he said, laughing.

“While at university, I also worked as a ski technician tuning skis and took online classes and basically skied for 120-plus days every season. I wasn’t racing, I was just free riding. It was the best time of my life because I was doing what I loved.

“When I ski, I don’t worry about anything. I’m only thinking about skiing and being in the present moment.”

After graduating in December 2020, he returned to Saudi and started a project aimed at bringing sand-skiing to the Kingdom.

While doing this, he responded to an advert looking for Saudi skiers to film a photoshoot at NEOM, the new net-zero megacity on the Kingdom’s northwest Red Sea coast.

The SWSF’s CEO, Sultan Salama, had heard of Abdi’s skiing prowess and asked him to meet him and his colleagues in Riyadh.

“They asked me if I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Abdi said. “I didn’t know if they were for real. I was like: ‘Well, the Olympics is in 11 months and I’ve never trained for anything like that.’

“They asked me to look for a training program and a coach and I found someone, Jeff Books, a Canadian guy (and experienced skiing director).”

After starting training in Austria last August, Abdi and his team trained and competed in countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Montenegro and Italy.

 “They’re even surprised about where we’re at right now,” Abdi said. “They’re completely mind-blown, to be completely honest.” Arab News

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