Saudi Arabia celebrated their first medal of the London Olympics Monday after they claimed the team show jumping bronze — despite a pre-Games row when one of their horses failed a drugs test.
In April, Abdullah Sharbatly, world silver-medallist in 2010, was handed an eight-month ban after his horse tested positive for banned anti-inflammation products.
But the suspension was reduced to two months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in June, a decision that freed him to take part at London’s Greenwich Park.
Sharbatly put the affair behind him when helping his country, in a team also featuring Prince Abdullah al-Saud, King Abdullah’s grandson, take third behind Great Britain and the Netherlands in the jumping competition.
“No comment” was Sharbatly’s compact reply when tackled about the positive test at the post-competition press conference.
But his team-mate, Kamal Bahamdan, said: “Everything that happened in the past with doping went through all the official challenges, nothing that happened was outside the official process, enough has been written about that.”
Prince Abdullah paid tribute to the support of his grandfather, King Abdullah.
“Despite all his busy work back home he is our biggest supporter, he’s been following the competition on television and by phone,” said the 27-year-old law graduate.
Millions of pounds have been poured into preparing the team for the Olympics, and Bahamdan declared the sport was developing fast in his oil-rich country. Saudi Arabia also won individual bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
“The biggest boost was that bronze in Sydney. Since then we’ve seen the quality of equestrian shows and the number of riders increase. It’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
Team-mate Ramzy al-Duhami said that despite their underdog status, the Saudis were not surprised by their achievement at making the podium ahead of equestrian giants such as defending champions the United States, Belgium and Canada.
“We’ve had this goal in mind for such a long time. This was our one focus, the Olympics, we’ve worked hard to get the horses ready for the Games,” he said.
“We wanted to be at the top of our game and now we’ve got this result. We are a young country in this sport.”
Sharbatly added: “Thanks to God and thanks to the king.”