It’s 20 years this month since Saudi Arabia took its first Olympic medal win. Subsequently, this spurred on a new generation of athletes and sports enthusiasts across the Kingdom, who have been growing the field ever since.
It was 400m hurdler Hadi Souan who took silver at the Sydney Games in 2000.
The athlete went on to develop his own passion for sport including significant contributions as a respected board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.
“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”
Souan’s love of sport began in his formative years as a footballer and qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year. In athletics he initially took to the high jump and decathlon before finally finding that his forte was the 400m hurdles.
“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing,” said Souan. “I only need to be determined, disciplined and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”
“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”
“The beauty of sport”, he added, “was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning, and losing.”
In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. He has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.
As the Kingdom seeks to nurture its sporting talent, including the launch of the very first-ever Women’s Football Association being launched this year, the momentum across the sector is expected to continue to grow further.
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