14 - 20 September 2000
Issue No. 499
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region Interview International Economy Opinion Culture Travel Living Sports Profile People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Small contributions to the showBy Alaa Shahine
In 1910, Egypt became the 14th country to join the International Olympic Committee (IOC), opening the way for its participation in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. But just one athlete represented the nation: fencer Ahmed Hassanein Pasha.
Full-scale participation began in earnest in 1920 when a delegation of 20 athletes took part in athletics, gymnastics, fencing, wrestling, weightlifting and football.
The first medals did not come until the 1928 Games in Amsterdam when Ibrahim Mustafa in wrestling and Said Nosair in weightlifting won a gold medal each. Farid Semeika snatched one silver and a bronze in diving.
In 1932, Egypt refused to participate in the 10th Olympic Games in Los Angeles in protest against the appointment of Angolo Polanski, a Greek, as Egypt's representative to the IOC.
More boycotts followed, all politically motivated. Egypt refused to go to the 1956 Games in Melbourne following the tripartite aggression against it by England, France and Israel. In 1972, Egypt sent its athletes back home after Palestinian commandos gunned down 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich Games. In 1976, Egypt and most African countries pulled out of the Montreal Games to protest against New Zealand's participation after it played a rugby match with South Africa, then ostracised by much of the world for its apartheid policies. And in 1980 Egypt, along with a large chunk of the globe, failed to show up in Moscow in protest at the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
A lone athlete represented Egypt in its Olympic debut... the last medal was won 16 years ago. Small gains in the world's biggest sports event. Rashwan (left) gave Egypt its last Olympic medal; El-Touni (right) its greatest triumph
By all accounts, Egypt's greatest Olympic triumph was in 1936, in Berlin, when five medals were won, all in weightlifting. The legendary Khidr El-Touni not only took a gold, but so stunning was his performance that his name was etched on an official plaque which hung outside Berlin's Olympic stadium. The International Weightlifting Federation had refused to recognise a new world record set by El-Touni in Egypt before the Olympics began, claiming it was a feat physically impossible to accomplish. Like it or not, the federation was forced to concede that El-Touni had lifted what no man had heaved before. His record survived for more than a half century before it was broken by the prolific Naiem Solimanghlo of Turkey in the 1990s.
Along with El-Touni, Anwar Mosbah snatched another gold medal, in the process breaking the world record in the lightweight division, while Saleh Soliman notched a silver. One bronze medal each went to Ibrahim Shams and Waseef Ibrahim.
Egypt continued to ride on the strength of its weightlifters in the 1948 Games in London. Mahmoud Fiad and Ibrahim Shams won a gold medal each while Attia Hammouda pocketed a silver. Wrestlers helped add to the total, a silver hauled in by Mahmoud Hassan and a bronze by Ibrahim Orabi.
"Although it was 52 years ago, I can still remember it like it was yesterday," Fiad recently told Al-Ahram Weekly. However, Fiad's memories of his moment of glory are bittersweet. "When we returned, we came with five Olympic medals. But nobody was waiting for us except the airport workers." For their performance, Fiad and his fellow champions were awarded a LE1,000 insurance policy, a princely amount at the time, but with a proviso that it be cashed in only after death. Though he obviously cannot do much with it, Fiad still has the policy. Even its sentimental worth, he says, has been devalued by time and the indifference shown by his country to his achievement.
Following London, the Egyptian Olympic harvest began to dry up dramatically. In fact, Egypt's total haul in the past 52 years have been limited to a paltry four medals: a bronze by wrestler Abdel-Aal Rashid in the 1952 Helsinki Games; a silver by wrestler Eid Osman and a silver by boxer Abdel-Moneim El-Guindy in 1960 in Rome; and one more silver -- the last medal of any colour to be won by Egypt -- collected by judo heavyweight Mohamed Rashwan in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Rashwan is best remembered by a critical situation he purposely did not take advantage of. In the final match in which a gold medal was there for the asking, Rashwan refused to play on what he deemed was the weaker side of his Japanese opponent who had been favouring his right leg after an injury. The magnanimous gesture cost Rashwan the gold but earned him the respect of all Egyptians and indeed, accolades from the Japanese, too. Rashwan later married a Japanese and retired, content with running a supermarket he bought in his hometown of Alexandria.
Ironically, the sport Egyptians love the most was never able to translate its popularity into tangible gains on the ground. The best the footballers could do was a fourth-place finish at both the 1928 Amsterdam Games and the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.