As 96 Egyptian athletes start competing in the Olympic Games tomorrow in Athens, eyes are focussed on an Olympic gold medal and who will pocket the million Egyptian pounds. Inas Mazhar
reviews the teams and their chances
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Above anticlockwise: Nahla Ramadan, Egypt's weightlifing prodigy, is most likely to take home a gold; Bougi, Egypt's second hope for gold in wrestling; Hussein Zaki leading the handball team photos: Abdel-Hamid Eid
Egypt's Youth Minister Anas El-Fiqi confirmed a week before the Egyptian delegation flew to Athens that a gold medal winner will be awarded a prize of LE1 million for outstanding achievement.
The last time an Egyptian stepped onto the Olympic podium was in 1984, when Judo's Mohamed Rashwan claimed a silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Since then, the Egyptians have been on a seeming fast of medals.
Twenty years later, Egypt hopes for at least three Olympic medals; one in weightlifting and two in the Greco- Roman wrestling.
The Egyptian delegation arrived in Athens in three stages: "We can't send the whole delegation together. We have divided them according to the schedule, the games that will be played from the beginning of the competitions travelled earlier and those who would play in the end travelled the last," said Egyptian National Olympic Managing Director Ahmed Enan.
The last group of the Egyptian delegation arrived in Athens last Tuesday. On the same day, the Egyptian flag was raised at the headquarters of the delegation in the Olympic Village, and the national anthem was played in a special ceremony marked with a parade headed by athlete Khaled Zein and Egypt's Ambassador to Athens Magda Shahine.
Egypt will take part in 17 sports: weightlifting, wrestling, handball, hockey, athletics, swimming, synchronised swimming, waterpolo, judo, boxing, taekwondou, modern pentathlon, rowing, shooting, equestrian, fencing and archery.
Weightlifting : Women: Nahla Ramadan and Anga Sayed. Men: Ahmed Saad, Mohamed Tantawi and Mohamed Ihsan.
The federation expects one medal, hopefully gold, by female athlete Nahla Ramadan, the world junior and women champion in the 75kg weight category. Ramadan had won two world titles in both senior and junior events in 2003 for the first time in the history of Egyptian women in weightlifting. She has a record of 262.5kg in her group, and is expected to achieve 265kg at the Games.
The 19-year-old prodigy -- who has not only stunned the world but amazed Egyptian society as a female weightlifter -- has been training hard for the past months looking for the gold and the million. Her father, who is also her trainer, has been sheltering her from any public attention and the media in order to allow her the space to focus and concentrate.
Wrestling: Two male players in the Greco-Roman: Mohamed Abdel- Fattah (Bougi) in the 84kg and Karam Gaber in the 96kg.
Both are ranked among the best six players in the world and the best in the history of Egypt in the game. Gaber was named the second best player in the last World Championship in France. If all went well and the draw falls in favour of the players, Gaber and Bougi have a realistic chance of a gold.
Handball : Men's team competing.
The most popular team sport in Egypt in terms of achievement, the handball team is surrounded by some controversy. Warming up for the Olympic Games, Egypt hosted the International Al-Ahram Handball Championship. Surprisingly, Egypt was placed third in the four-team event. The African champion who placed sixth in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and seventh in Sydney 2000, barely beat Japan but lost to France and Russia. Surprisingly, the team which has reached a career high of the world number four in 2001, has recently displayed shamefully low level performances. The German head coach of the team claimed that the players were too tired from playing so many friendly matches in the past months in preparations for the Olympic Games.
Egypt was expected to play another friendly match against Japan before flying to Athens, but the head coach cancelled the games saying his players were "tired".
Hockey: Men's team competing.
The 16-man team, winner of the African championships, has no hopes in qualifying past the first round. But as the continent's champions, they have to take part but in the presence of the world giants Holland, Pakistan and India, the Egyptians stand little chance in getting past the first round.
Athletics: Men: Omar El-Ghazali in the discuss throwing, Hatem Mersal in the long jump. Women: Marwa Arafat in the hammer throw.
The three players hold the best Egyptian and African results. According to federation officials -- and indeed based on their international results -- they are expected to claim a position in the top 12.
Swimming: Men: Ahmed Mustafa in the 50, 100 and 200 metres backstroke. Women: Salma Abdel-Raouf in the100 metres breast stroke.
Egypt's best results in the Olympic pool came in 2000 in Sydney when Egypt's retired golden fish Ranya Elwany reached the final B and clinched the 11th spot.
Synchronised swimming : Heba Tawfik and Dalia Allam will take part in the single and duo routines.
Water polo : Men's team competing.
After 36 years of absence, the Egyptian national water polo team returns back to the Olympic pool. The last time Egypt took part was in Mexico 1968. The draw has put Egypt among top strong teams like Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain, making Egyptian chances almost nil.
Judo : Men: Amin El-Hadi, Basel El- Gharabawi, El-Sayed Abou Midan, Hisham Hanafi, Haitham El- Husseini, Ismail Amr. Women: Samah Ramadan.
According to Egyptian Federation Chairman Sameh Mobasher, Egypt far surpasses other international competitors. Despite this alleged superior level, Egypt retains only the African crown.
Boxing: Saleh Abdel-Bary, Mohamed Reda, Mohamed El- Baz, Ahmed Ismail, Abdel-Mawgoud Heikal, Ramadan Abdel-Ghaffar.
These boxers -- despite their tough personalities -- look to stand no chances against the world's top fighters. The little glimmer of hope and perhaps a miracle comes in Afro- Asian gold medalist Abdel-Mawgoud Heikal.
Taekwondu : Men: Tamer Salah and Karim El-Ramly. Women: Abeer Abdel-Fattah and Germein Fayez.
Egypt hopes for a good draw which would enable this team of African champions a berth in the second round -- an opportunity denied in Sydney 2000.
Modern Pentathlon: Men: Raouf Hossam. Women: Aya Medani.
These two athletes both boast spots as African champions. The 21-year- old Hossam and the 17-year-old Medani were trained in Poland. Medals unlikely, but perhaps it will prove their time to be spotted by athletic talent-seeking scouts.
Rowing : Men: Ali Ibrahim. Women: Doaa Osama.
Together with accomplished female teammate, Ibrahim -- the best Egyptian rower -- competes in the single boat in his third appearance in the Olympic Games. Together with Osama they have been trained in the USA. Chances are high for a medal.
Shooting: Men: Mohamed Ismail, Amr Yousri, Mustafa Ismail. Women: Dina El-Essawy and Shaimaa Hashaad.
The promise of Egypt in this sport lies in the hands of Ismail in the air- pressure rifle 100 metres event. His record is 595/600 making this young marksman a hope for the finals. He finished 14th in the last Olympics.
Equestrian: Saleh Andre Sakakini makes his fourth appearance in the Olympic Games. Sakakini is the best horse rider in the history of Egypt. Based in Germany, he trains on his own, under the supervision of the Egyptian Equestrian Federation and the Egyptian National Olympic Committee. Despite qualifying for the games by placing in the top sliver of the world's riders, Sakakini was unfortunately hospitalised with kidney problems just days prior to the games.
Fencing: Men: Tamer Tahoun, Mustafa Anwar, Mustafa Nagati, Mohannad Seif, Yasser El-Erwany and Ahmed Nabil. Women: Shaimaa El- Gammal.
Egypt's hopes lies in Tahoun in the foil competition.
Archery: Men: Maged Mohieddin and Essam Sayed Ahmed. Women: May Ahmed Hisham and Lamiaa Medhat.
The Egyptian Archery Federation consider themselves lucky to participate with four players instead of only one in 2000. The International Federation allowed them the chance after the sport has shown clear progress in Egypt and remarkable results in the African continent in the past four years.