Saudi festival showcases green mountains flower crowns

AL-SOUDAH, Saudi Arabia — Atop a string of green mountains in Saudi Arabia, a monthlong festival drew a medley of yoga enthusiasts, extreme adventure seekers, tourists and traditional Saudi families — many wearing colorful flower crowns native to the region as the kingdom looks for ways to revamp its image and build up tourism.The al-Soudah festival, which ran throughout the month of August, gave visitors a chance to experience a unique region in Saudi Arabia and take part in outdoor sports like hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, horseback riding, zip lining and bungee jumping. Thousands also attended concerts by Middle Eastern superstars.Scenes of women zip lining and young Saudis at concerts, while nevertheless in a remote village, are a stark departure from the ultraconservative policies that for decades barred concerts and gender mixing, as well as shunned women’s sports in the kingdom.The reforms are being pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s powerful 34-year-old son. He is looking to revamp the country’s economy to become more resilient in the face of lower oil prices. Boosting domestic spending and opening the country to foreign tourists are seen as ways to create more jobs for the millions of young Saudis who will be entering the workforce and looking for jobs in the coming years.The al-Soudah festival attracted between 12,000 and 15,000 visitors per day, said Husameddin al-Madani, who oversaw the event. Most visitors to the festival were Saudi citizens, but it also drew foreign tourists.Unlike Saudi Arabia’s major cities — which have limited outdoor spaces for sports, especially for women who must wear long flowing robes known as abayas in public — Saudi women in al-Soudah wore fitted jeans and sneakers under their rolled up abayas to hike up the mountain. Other Saudi women were seen zip lining between cliffs. In keeping with local custom, many kept their faces and hair covered.The weather in August in the village of al-Soudah, located in the southwest Asir province, is a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) in August, unlike the capital, Riyadh, or the coastal city of Jiddah, where temperatures exceed 43 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) throughout the summer. In the winter, parts of the mountain range see snow.Al-Soudah sits on part of the Sarawat Mountain range in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, some 3,000 metres (9,840 feet) above sea level. Its highlands are covered in the green of juniper trees. The area is also home to baboons, who were kept away from the festival with help from Human Wildlife Solutions based in Cape Town, South Africa.Jiddah city resident Noura al-Moammar said she was surprised by the region’s climate.“I never thought, honestly, that my country is that rich with nature,” she said. “It’s amazing for us to discover and see the different cultures and landscapes and weather in our beautiful Saudi.”In the nearby village of Rijal Almaa, the men wore flower crowns, or garlands, made from local flowers and herbs. Visitors here were treated to garlands of their own, local tribal dances, coffee, tea and evening lightshows displayed on the village’s 500-year-old distinct natural clay, stone and wood structures.The festival also drew extreme sports enthusiasts, including wingsuit base jumpers. Saudi media reported that British adventurer and astronautical engineer Angelo Grubisic died during a jump off the side of a cliff at the festival when he experienced difficulties reaching the landing site at speeds of around 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour.The festival took place less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the airport in Abha, the capital city of the region of Asir, which has been targeted by Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels. Saudi Arabia has been waging war in Yemen against the rebels, also known as Houthis.Still, visitors at the festival said they felt extremely secure.“I couldn’t feel safer, honestly,” said Paris Verra, a 24-year-old American visitor. “The city is vibrant, and I was walking down the streets at like 1 and 2 a.m. and having tea with locals.”“Coming from America, there’s obviously a lot of misconceptions … but I’m here to show and prove it’s nothing but incredible … I hope everybody gets a chance to visit this place one day,” she added.So serene was the vibe at the festival that Alwaleed al-Keaid, who runs a Saudi hiking company, led morning mediations atop the mountain.“We start our mornings with a mediation session in this gorgeous environment where we thank God for this blessing and meditate,” he said. “When we’re done, we try the local bread with honey… and help people enjoy nature, forget about the rest of the world and live in the moment.”The festival also had its share of glitz and glamour with concerts by Middle Eastern mega stars, including Emirati singer Ahlam and Iraqi singer Kazem al-Saher. Their performances drew thousands of fans and al-Saher’s concert alone generated 1.5 million Saudi riyals ($400,000) in ticket sales, festival organizers said.The al-Soudah festival is one of 11 taking place in different parts of the country this year. The initiative, dubbed Saudi Seasons, is aimed at developing tourism and providing Saudis with temporary and permanent jobs.Al-Madani, the CEO of the al-Soudah festival, said at least 515 young men and women were hired from the local community to assist in the monthlong event. Local businesses also got a boost by contributing to food trucks and other services.___Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.Amr Nabil, The Associated Press read more

Canadian Isabelle Weidemann wins gold in 3000 at speedskating World Cup

TOMAKOMAI, Japan — Canadian speedskater Isabelle Weidemann won gold on Sunday in the women’s 3,000-metre event at the ISU World Cup.The gold was Weidemann’s first individual medal on the senior World Cup circuit.Canada also took two medals in the team sprint events. Ivanie Blondin, Heather McLean, Kaylin Irvine won bronze in the women’s race while Laurent Dubreuil, Christopher Fiola and Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu finished third in the men’s final.Weidemann’s pace of four minutes 10.185 seconds in the 3,000 set a new track record for the Tomakomai Highland Sports Center and was a full 2.82 seconds faster than silver medallist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic. Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida was third.“I’m super excited with my first medal,” said Weidemann. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve had a lot of fourth places, so I’m really happy to come out with a win.”Blondin, who won bronze in the mass start Saturday, finished eighth in the 3,000 with a time of 4:18.906.Weidemann and Blondin sit third and sixth, respectively, in the overall World Cup rankings for the distance after two events.Jordan Belchos of Toronto placed 13th in the men’s 5,000 while Calgary’s Ted-Jan Bloemen finished 16th.The Canadian Press read more

Womens hockey Kassidy Sauves recordbreaking year defined through resilience

Ohio State redshirt sophomore goaltender Kassidy Sauve stares down a rolling puck against St. Cloud State on Feb. 4 at the OSU Ice Rink. Credit: Magee Sprague | Lantern reporterOhio State women’s hockey redshirt sophomore starting goaltender Kassidy Sauve was given figure skates by her parents when she was just 4 years old, but she turned them down. She didn’t want the “girl skates.” All she wanted was to play hockey, even if it meant being the only girl on the team.So, Sauve started playing hockey with her brother and played goalie.Now, Suave is the 2016-17 NCAA saves leader and broke OSU’s school record for most saves in a single-season on Saturday.“I fell in love with (hockey) early on,” Sauve said. “When I was little I was on the ice all the time. Other than when I was doing school work I was on the ice or playing road hockey.”There was no girls team near the small town outside of Montreal where Sauve grew up, so she got her start playing on all-boys teams. Even when her family moved to Toronto, she begged her parents to let her try out for the boys team.“I think it made me very intense,” Sauve said. “I think a lot of my teammates would say I’m an intense person and I hate losing. I’m very passionate and I think that had a lot to do with me playing boys hockey.”One of Sauve’s favorite hockey memories came when she was chosen to represent Canada on the under-18 women’s national team.“When I got the call that I was selected for the under-18 women’s national team I was very excited,” Sauve said. “It was something I dreamed of when I was little. We played in Budapest, Hungary, and we actually won gold, which was really cool. I’m really hoping to experience that again someday.”Sauve had no plans to attend a big school due to her small-town upbringing. But­­­­­­­, when she visited Ohio State, she fell in love with the campus, the people and the rink.“I noticed right off the bat that for a big school it has a small school feel,” Sauve said. “I just fell in love with the school and I know a lot of people don’t love our rink, but I fell in love with our rink because it reminds me of childhood rinks.”It wasn’t too long after Sauve stepped foot in Columbus that she faced one of the toughest challenges of her life.In a game at Wisconsin, an opposing player made a back-door pass which caused Sauve to slip. Immediately something felt off.“I thought I just pulled my hip flexor or something,” Sauve said. “I got an X-ray and an MRI and it showed that my labrum was torn. What was causing it was that I had extra bone mass on my femur … And I had it on both sides. Thank my genetics for that.”Sauve underwent bilateral surgery to clean up the extra bone mass on her femurs. Recovering from a major surgery is difficult, but she said the real challenge was being away from the sport she loves so much.“It was tough when they were on the ice or in practice and you’re sitting in the stands or on the bench watching, but I would try to stay close to (my teammates) all times possible,” she said.Aside from her teammates, Sauve leaned on her family who was hundreds of miles away in Canada.“My family was a huge support system for me, they helped me through that process,” she said. “They were always there for me and always a phone call away. They still made trips down even though I wasn’t playing.”Sauve has experienced countless memorable moments on the ice, but one that sticks out beyond the rest is the first time she stepped back on the ice after her surgeries. She was in just a tracksuit and skates but it was a moment she will never forget.“I got chills,” Sauve said. “I got very emotional. It was really exciting to not be in pain when I was skating. It brought tears to my eyes.”After being out of the game for 581 days, Sauve is dominating in her comeback season. Following Saturday’s game, she has racked up 1,086 saves so far in her redshirt sophomore season, the most in the NCAA. She is more than 100 saves ahead of the second-place competitor.“I definitely have a solid defensive team in front of me,” Sauve said. “The number of shots I have doesn’t do them justice.”OSU coach Nadine Muzerall said Sauve is the “backbone” and the “quarterback” of the team.“She faces a lot of shots and she always does what we need of her,” Muzerall said.Playing in the WCHA, Suave faced some of the toughest offenses in the country on a weekly basis. In league play, the Buckeyes took on the current No. 1, 2 and 4 teams in the country.“The matter of fact is, I don’t know why we give up a lot of shots but I like it,” she said. “So it’s not a big deal to me. I’d rather have 900-and-something shots versus 150 throughout the season.” read more