Tim Heming’s Abu Dhabi diary: Day two

Featuring gold vending machines, Britain’s golden boy and a man with very big hair


One ounce gold bar: 8,895 Emirati dirham; one official ‘Fat Boy’ gold watch: 33,765 dirham; one Olympic triathlon gold medal won by Alistair Brownlee: priceless.


This is Abu Dhabi and that’s what’s parading at the spectacular Emirates Palace this afternoon, where a walk through the main hall reveals the world’s first and, as it claims, only gold VENDING machine.

For clarity, it’s both gold in colour and vends gold, so whatever your taste in bling, be it in watch, chain or ring – it promises the fairest price in all of the Emirates.

Of course, gold from a vending machine is nothing new, the one back in the office dishes out Terry’s or Wispas – the only difference being security doesn’t come running as quickly when you shake it because it’s swallowed your change. Again.

Once through the hall and out on to the exclusive Palace beach, the aforementioned Brownlee is showing off his new Huub wetsuit and is deep into post-London 2012 ambassadorial duties befitting of an Olympic champion. In this case it’s taking a group of local school children out for a swim lesson, tomorrow morning it’ll be drag racing (on the Yas marina Grand Prix circuit, not swim, bike and running in a woman’s tri suit).

Alistair looks in fine fettle. Having barely raced since Hyde Park save one, probably ill-advised, hit-out at the 5150 Hy-Vee money-grab in Iowa, he’s managed to get through the majority of the British winter without the aid of an air-boot.

In fact his only niggle, a slight one in the knee, was perfectly timed to give him the chance to spend Christmas finishing off his dissertation. As the final part of his finance degree, he’s been analysing the minutiae of the success of the sponsors at the Olympic Games.

“So you can work out how much they make before working out how much they should pay an Olympic champ?” I enquire. No comment on that one.

But it’s soon back to racing and on Saturday he’ll take on the ‘short’ course distance of 1,500m swim, 100km bike and a 10km run. It’s a secondary race to the long course where both the men’s and women’s champ will pick up $50,000 in Abu Dhabi, but boosted by the British Olympic champ it becomes an intriguing prospect.

With zero prize money in a skinny men’s elite field, Brownlee’s foremost competition in the short course may come from the big Russian Alexander Bryukhankov, but it’s also notable for the region’s golden boys, Egyptian Omar Nour and Jordanian Lawrence Fanous.

Omar is an interesting character. If he races as well as he talks he’ll have finished before the rest of the field have unclipped their bike shoes. Five years ago he was 105kg, stressed out, eating junk food and running a telecoms business he set up with his brother outside Washington DC.

Now he thinks he can beat the Olympic champion. The 34-year-old might drop a couple of minutes on the swim but he’ll have that back on the bike and some because, as he says: “Desert heat is not like Yorkshire heat.” No, Omar, it’s not.

He’s got no chance but follow him at @omarnour anyway. He’s got big hair and a big character to match.

Now, all that watching people exercise has made me hungry. Off to the hotel buffet. Again.


Image: Romilly Lockyer