1 - 7 June 2000
Issue No. 484
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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The flip side of things
Mohamed Rashwan casts a long shadow over sports in Egypt, perhaps too long. The judo heavyweight was the last Egyptian to win a medal in the Olympics, a silver, in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. At the end of the Sydney Olympics, he still might be tagged with the same distinction.
Rashwan has long since retired but his achievement remains a target which all of Egypt's athletes, none more so than the judo team, have aspired to but have failed to realise in three consecutive Games. Going by recent continental results, the country's new judo generation seems to have a more than decent chance of emulating Rashwan's feat in this summer's Sydney Olympics. In the African championship in Algeria last month four Egyptians did well enough to qualify for Sydney. It appears, however, that that might well end up a goal in itself.
"I don't have the slightest idea about my preparations for the Olympics," Heba Rasheed, Egypt's and Africa's women's judo champion, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Rasheed, quarter-finalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, complained that her preparation for Sydney has been less than impressive. "Other world champions have been getting ready since 1996 and I am called on to defeat them," Rasheed said, adding that she could promise nothing more than a fifth place position.
Logically, though, she should do better. At an international meet in Holland last year Rasheed defeated the Atlanta bronze medalist. "That means I am improving in spite of the problems in the way of my preparations," she said.
Basel El-Gharabawi, a former bronze medalist at the World Junior Championship in 1994, has also complained about the poor organisation even though the world's most important sporting showpiece is just months away. "In Europe, they do not leave anything to chance while here everything depends on our personal efforts," El-Gharabawi said. However, he insisted he would do "something big" in Sydney, based on results of several international events he took part in this year. "Despite the difficulties, I am determined to repeat Rashwan's achievement."
El-Gharabawy, right, is determined to do "something big" in Sydney
The Egyptian Judo Federation, for one, does not see why El-Gharabawi should not. "Our players are well prepared," Mohamed Abdel-Rahim, the federation's spokesman told the Weekly. Rejecting his players' claims of disarray within the ranks, he said the federation knew exactly what it was doing and where it was going. He said the players had already entered several international championships this year and will go to France, Germany and Japan for some last-minute tune-ups. "The team's plan is based on a long-term strategy whose goal is to realise our long-awaited dream in the Olympics," Abdel-Rahim said.
But Abdel-Rahim did not hide the financial hardships the federation is facing. "The problem is that our budget is not totally devoted to the Olympics. We have many other things we spend on."
Coach Helmi Hussein said that success in judo, unlike other sports that depend on goals, baskets or a stopwatch, is difficult to measure. But he was quick to add that any of his four, Rasheed and El-Gharabawi in particular, were capable of "bearing the fruit of hard training over the past period. We have exerted together untold efforts to reach the highest possible level and personally I think they will pay off."
Hussein stressed that victory would depend largely on the draw. "If we are lucky, we will avoid facing world champions in the preliminary rounds. Otherwise, our opportunity for a medal will be minimal."