Olympians by Gabriella Sancisi

Olympians by Gabriella Sancisi is a new photography exhibition that features athletes from the United Arab Emirates. It's taking place at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel in Abu Dhabi from 25th November till 2nd Decemer 2011. I do hope it gets to travel around the country in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics.

After it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games, Gabriella Sancisi began to photograph professional athletes as well as young people involved in sports in schools in the Olympic Boroughs and teenagers who play sport in clubs throughout London. Many of the young people were asked for their thoughts on the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to London, their relationship to their chosen sport and their hopes and dreams for the future.

For the UAE edition, Gabriella photographed a total of twenty-four Olympic and Paralympic athletes during her visit this year.

I recorded each likeness in a similar way to create a uniform group although individual subjects were captured at different locations and at varying times. I have chosen those images which touched me the most and which I feel work best collectively. I often use scale in my work to create an opportunity for the viewer to look closely at the sitters. I have tremendous respect for all of the athletes who chose to be portrayed and I have tried not to impose too many rules on how they should pose. At the same time, I know exactly what it is that I am looking for in a likeness and this is generally a moment of self-consciousness or connection when the relationship between the athlete, me and an eventual viewer of the portrait seem to collide.

We aren't a very sporty nation, if shopping and hanging out at malls was a sport, we'd be champions. So personally, I think it's wonderful that there's an exhibition celebrating the few who really do push themselves to achieve success in the world of sports. I particularly love how the photos put both Olympic and Paralympic athletes on the same footing. Here's a small selection of photos from the Olympians exhibition. You can see the full series here.

Ahmed Abdullah Al Hosani- Javelin Throw, Al Thiqah Club for Handicapped, Sharjah


“Today I feel happiness whenever I remember the fear I felt every time I practised sport in the past. I was able to overcome my fear and replace it with the joy of accomplishment.

Faithful coaches believed in my capabilities and stood by me and that made me conquer the difficult stages.

Sport is no longer a frightening hobby; it is now my present and my future, which I hope will be more promising.

I am thrilled that I have qualified for the Paralympic Games, and I hope I will take part in the Games in 2012”.

Fatmah Rashed Al Kaabi - Powerlifting, Dubai Club for Special Sports


“Sport gave me many things which I never expected. My personality and views about life have changed for good. I’m stubborn by nature and I love to be special, therefore, I do not like to go the easy ways, and that is what attracted me to powerlifting.

So, I became the first Emirati woman to practise and pursue this game, despite the fact that even the idea of having a female powerlifer is rejected by our society. I hope that the awareness of the importance of sport spreads even more, because it means a lot!”

Hassan Ali Malaleih - Shot put/Javelin throw wheelchair, Khorfakkan Club for Handicapped


“I reached the world of sport while I walked through the road of light. I followed the advice of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) who said: 'Teach your children shooting, swimming and horse riding.' I discovered a whole different world.

I discovered the balance between mind and body.I initially faced problems related to fixing the target and throwing the javelin in the specified direction. I was, however, capable of overcoming them all with a lot training. My enthusiasm for the Paralympic Games in 2012 is overwhelming”.

Maryam Khameis Al Matrooshi - Javelin throw/ Shot put, Khorfakkan Club for Handicapped


“The playground seemed small, but the dream was bigger… When I began practising javelin throwing, I faced a problem in the limited training space, but I used to look into the horizon and feel that the whole world was my playground.

My passion for this sport made me overcome any challenges that threatened my way to professionalism. For me, sport means horizon, playground… and existence. All athletes dream of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and, I, similarly, share the same dream and hope it comes true for me in 2012”.

Mubarek Mohammed Salem Youssef Al Bishr - Swimming, Al Wasl Club


“Swimming has always taken me high to a beautiful and fascinating world… a world of fame. I have not lost my balance though. On the contrary, fame made me reorganise my life in a more disciplined manner.

I did not choose swimming; with members of my family having practised this sport long before me, I feel that swimming chose me. With patience and determination, I was able to overcome the difficulties that I had encountered in the beginning.

I hope that the United Arab Emirates continues its great support to Sports and extends its sincere encouragement to the Emirati athletes.”

Rashid Khalaf Al Nuaimi - Sprinting, Al Ain Club for the Disabled


“Training is everything, and persistent training is the bridge that leads to success; my family and friends have been the greatest support in this regard. They are important in my life especially as, for me, sprinting means interaction with others, with people...

I feel like I compete first with my own self to reach any championship, and this has always helped me go through the first phases without any difficulties.”

Siham Masoud Al Rashidi - Discus throw/Javelin throw, Dubai Club for Special Sports


“I always had a passion for following the news on sports and sportspeople, but I never thought for one moment that I would practise it. Sport has now become my obsession, a part of me. I was trained for two years until I mastered discus throwing, and I was really surprised when I knew that my scores would qualify me for the Paralymic Games.

This was a dream which I never expected to come true. I think of my own dream and of the dreams of all Emirati women who played an extraordinary role in sports for the handicapped, and I hope I could bring that role into the spotlight, even more.”

Thuraya Hamad AlZaabi - Javelin throw/ Shot put, Al Thiqah Club for Handicapped, Sharjah


“Sport is the soul; that is how I call it. My disability never stopped me from being a sportswoman. I found that javelin throwing and shot put are suitable for my case, although they are not easy sports.

My wish is to be ambassador of my country to the international events, to present the good image of the Emirati girl: smiling, successful, and loving.”

Exhibition details
Date: 25th November - 2nd December 2011
Venue: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE