Dubai: After last-minute dash through floods, UAE teens catch flight, win int'l tournament

With their luggage missing, the youngsters entered the competition without their UAE jerseys - but what they didn't lack was the motivation to perform for the country

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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Bharath Latheesh, Adam Jeslin, Taabia Khan and Mysha Khan of the UAE during the medals ceremony in Cyprus. — Supplied photos
Bharath Latheesh, Adam Jeslin, Taabia Khan and Mysha Khan of the UAE during the medals ceremony in Cyprus. — Supplied photos

Published: Wed 24 Apr 2024, 10:21 AM

Last updated: Wed 24 Apr 2024, 10:31 PM

When Omer Khan was anxiously waiting for his flight to Dubai at the Delhi Airport on the evening of April 16, social media was flooded with heart-warming videos of people saving families from drowning in sinking cars and residents offering a helping hand to stranded commuters in the wake of the UAE’s worst storm.

Little did Khan know that he was also going to be a part of a story that evokes the never-say-die spirit.


It’s a story of incredible human resilience that culminated in medal-winning performances from his daughters, Taabia Khan and Mysha Khan, and their UAE teammates at an international badminton tournament in Cyprus on Sunday.

But on April 16 at the Delhi Airport, medals were not on Khan’s mind.


All the UAE resident could do was pray for a miracle, so he could reach Dubai to take his daughters and their teammates to Cyprus for the BWF (Badminton World Federation) junior international tournament (April 19-21).

A lot of things needed to fall in place for Khan to weather the storm (literally), but his flight to Dubai was cancelled and he faced an agonising 15-hour wait for his next flight (on April 17) which eventually took him to Sharjah.

“It was only when I landed in Sharjah that I understood what I was up against. There were no cabs at the airport and I had to walk around five kilometres to get to a place from where my driver could pick me up,” Khan recalled.

When Khan reached his Dubai residence, there were hardly a few hours left for their flight to Cyprus on April 18.

“I was physically exhausted, but somehow my spirits were still high and I felt we could make it to the Dubai airport with my daughters,” he said.

But the images of abandoned cars in the waterlogged roads put fear in the minds of everyone else, including the parents of the other UAE players, Bharath Latheesh and Adam Jeslin.

“They were doubtful considering the gravity of the situation, but we all agreed to take a chance and go to the airport,” Khan said.

When Khan and the players reached Terminal 3 of the Dubai International Airport, they faced another big obstacle.

“The airport was crowded with people, and we soon realised that only the transit passengers were allowed to fly, not the local ones,” Khan said.

Amidst all the chaos, Khan managed to speak to an Emirates ground staff and explained that the teenagers with him were no ordinary passengers.

“I told her that these are UAE badminton players who must be able to board the flight to represent the country in Cyprus. She immediately spoke to her manager who allowed us to fly just 45 minutes before the scheduled departure (at 8 am on April 18),” he said.

After finally getting the go-ahead, Khan and the youngsters had to run to the departure gate.

“It was like a climax in a movie, we reached the gate just when they were about to close it,” he said.

The UAE contingent eventually reached Larnaca, Cyprus, but their luggage didn’t make it to the Mediterranean island.

“Everything happened at the last minute. So we had to buy some clothes and other essentials in Cyprus for our children to train and play in the tournament,” said Khan.

The youngsters entered the tournament without their UAE jerseys, but what they didn’t lack was the motivation to perform for the country as they went on to win five medals, including two gold.

Bharath grabbed the gold in boys’ singles and mixed doubles with Taabia, who partnered her sister, Mysha, and won the silver in girls’ doubles.

Mysha also clinched the silver in girls’ singles and a bronze with Adam in mixed doubles.

“I told the kids that we have reached here (Cyprus) after so much struggle, so now you have to win. And I am so happy that they performed so well. They won two gold, two silver and one bronze, it was the best medals tally for any country in the tournament,” Khan said.

Bharath, 16, said it was still a surreal feeling to have returned from Cyprus wearing medals around their necks.

“It’s unbelievable because we were waiting at the Dubai airport for more than four hours. We were like, ‘We are never going to make it’. But in the end, they opened it and we reached the gate in the nick of time,” said Bharath, the world number four in junior rankings.

“So it was a new experience and winning those medals for the UAE has made it very sweet," the youngster added before showing his gratitude to the Emirates ground staff.

“We can never thank the airport staff enough because this was a very important tournament for us," he said. "Without their support, we would have never made it!”

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