Al-Harazi "Still in Shock" Over Wild-Card Olympic Berth
Al-Harazi will be the first gymnast from Yemen to take part in Olympic competition, after a tripartite commission selected him and female gymnast Thuong Di Thi Ngan (Vietnam) for the two available wild-card berths for Beijing.
The tripartite commission consists of the International Olympic Committee, the International Gymnastics Federation and the Association of National Olympic Committees. Geographic representation at the Olympics is one of the factors for designating wild-card berths.
"I know that there are gymnasts with greater accomplishments than me who have not been invited to Beijing," Al-Harazi told IG from Yemen this week. "I feel a great responsibility to them and to the international gymnastics community to perform my best, and to be a worthy example of what the Olympic spirit is supposed to mean."
Al-Harazi got the news of his wild-card berth at home, where representatives of the Yemen Olympic Committee telephoned him. "I am still in shock," he said, noting that officials from his country's gymnastics federation are equally enthusiastic.
"They are very, very pleased and hopeful that this will help gymnastics develop in our country, so that we might have a full team compete at some point in the next quadrennium and beyond," Al-Harazi said.
At the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, which served to qualify gymnasts for the Beijing Games, Al-Harazi competed on five events only because of a sore wrist.
Al-Harazi said that, prior to the start of his U.S.-based training under coach Jim Holt in Seattle, Wash., he had never trained on rings, parallel bars or high bar. In Stuttgart, he competed for the first time ever on rings and parallel bars.
As Al-Harazi awaits approval of his visa to return to the U.S. for pre-Olympic training under Holt, he said his training plan has shifted "from the 'long-term' to 'competitive preparation' phase." He intends to compete in the all-around at the Beijing Games.
"I'm looking to have my floor, pommel horse and vault Start Values in the top 15 in the competition," said Al-Harazi, who placed 27th on vault at the 2006 Worlds and 21st on vault at the 2007 Worlds. "Ensha Allah, my goal is to perform my exercises cleanly!"
Holt said Al-Harazi's 2007 Start Values were 6.3 on floor exercise, and 6.2 on pommel horse and vault. "We're trying to do a little better, yet be clean, clean, clean," he said.
Al-Harazi credited Holt and his wife, Hannah, for their support of his career. Under the Holts' partnership he became Yemen's first gymnast to compete at a World Championships when he competed in 2006 in Aarhus, Denmark. Al-Harazi trained briefly under Holt at Metropolitan Gymnastics in Seattle prior to Aarhus, and spent eight months training with Holt prior to Stuttgart.
"Jim started me on the path that led to Beijing," Al-Harazi said. "It was a dream come true for me to be able to live and train in America with him and Hannah this past year, and to be at Worlds with 'my second parents.'"
In 1996 Holt conducted an IOC Solidarity Course in Sana'a, Yemen, where he asked a group of 40 Yemeni coaches and gymnasts to define their goals.
"They said, 'We'd like to be competitive with the Arab countries,'" Holt recalled. "I responded, 'That's too small. If you're going to do this, you need to pick an impossible dream and chase it. There's no reason that Yemen can't have a gymnast compete at the World Championships or even qualify for the Olympic Games.'"
Al-Harazi, then age 9, was among the group of gymnasts standing on a mat next to a homemade vault board. "I pointed to Nashwan and said, 'This could be your guy. This could be the first gymnast from Yemen to compete at Worlds,'" Holt said. "And as Nashwan told you, he believed me."
IG Magazine Related Feature
"A First for Yemen" - short Al-Harazi feature (February 2007)