Keep your focus and enjoy the beautiful moment — those were the words of advice from an Olympic silver medallist and a Paralympian to Safiya Al Sayegh, the Emirati cyclist who has qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Al Sayegh, 22, made history last year when she became the first Emirati female cyclist to qualify for an Olympic Games.

The rising star is leaving no stone unturned to deliver her best performance on the grand stage when the Games begin on July 26 in Paris.

The 158-km long women’s road race in France will test the skills and endurance of Al Sayegh who has done all the hard work to be among the world’s elite female cyclists.

But Jessica Smith, a former Australian parathlete who brought laurels to her country in swimming, and Dan Norton, the British rugby star who won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games, said the Olympics is not just about competing for medals.

Smith, who represented Australia at the 2004 Athens Olympics, recalled how the Games create lifetime memories for athletes.

“It was a unique experience for me, I was able to meet so many incredible athletes, there was also a component where I was so excited, it was like one big party at the Games Village,” said Smith at an event which was hosted by Nathalie Kennedy, General Consul of France in Dubai.

“You have to try and remain focused in that moment because you have trained so hard for this one event, then everything that happens around it, is nothing that you ever trained for, you have never put yourself in those situations.

“So you have to remain focused because it’s amazing to be able to compete at an Olympic Games and to be able to do what you love and to do that in such a beautiful place like Paris, you have to take everything in.”

Norton, who excelled in the sevens format of rugby, reminisced about his first Olympics in Rio where he bumped into icons like Usain Bolt, and the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.

“Rio was my first Olympics and it was amazing, the whole place was buzzing. I ran into some of the sporting greats like Usain Bolt, Serena and Venus Williams. It was pretty surreal to be in that place. It was a very special time in my life,” he said.

“The Olympics is like a circus, you have got athletes of every shape and size, from massive 6-foot-eight basketball players to tiny gymnasts, you have got everything.”

Norton, who also featured in the British team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, said winning the silver medal in Rio 2016 was the most incredible moment of his life as an athlete.

“We prepared very well for that Rio Olympics; we had our camps for two weeks in the south of Brazil. Then to go to the Games and win a silver, it was an incredible experience.”

Al Sayegh, who also became the first Emirati female cyclist to be picked by a professional team (UAE Team ADQ), said she is incredibly proud to represent the UAE at the world’s greatest sporting spectacle.

“I am looking forward to doing the longest race of my life in Paris. It’s an incredible honour to be at the Olympics and I hope to give my best performance for my country,” the rising star said.

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