Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 August - 1 September 2004
Issue No. 705
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Twenty years later...

Boxers gave Egypt a few sorely needed Olympic medals. Inas Mazhar reports on the rare feat

Click to view caption
Egypt's Mohamed Ali prays on the canvas after defeating Lithuania's Jaroslav Jaksto during the super heavyweight boxing quarter-finals (photo: AP) ; from above: Egypt's Mohamed El-Baz celebrates victory over his Australian opponent Adam Forsyth in the quarter-finals; Mohamed Ali (right) exchanges blows with Jaroslav Jaksto of Lithuania in the quarterfinals of the +91kg heavyweight category; Ahmed Ismail after reaching the semi-finals (photos: AFP)

While Egypt was still smarting from the failure of weightlifter Nahla Ramadan to win a medal of any colour, boxer Mohamed El-Baz came out of the blue to win his quarter-final bout in the 91kg weight category and secure a bronze, the country's first Olympic medal since a silver in judo in 1984 in Los Angeles.

El-Baz beat Australian Adam Forsyth on points 27/12.

But there was more. Two more Egyptian boxers participating in Athens reached the semi-final, an unprecedented achievement for Egyptian boxing, whose sole previous medal was Abdel-Moneim El- Guindi's welterweight bronze in the 1960 Rome Games.

Unfortunately, El-Baz was injured in the hand against Forsyth, preventing him from playing in the semi-final, an encounter that, if he had won, would have allowed him to play for a gold medal.

"It wasn't our decision but that of the tournament's medical committee," said Ismail Hamed, secretary-general of the Egyptian National Olympic Committee and president of the Egyptian Boxing Federation. "According to the rules, any player who is injured during a match and wins cannot play the following match. However, the tournament's officials decided to award the player the bronze medal without even playing," Hamed said.

El-Baz will receive his medal on 28 August.

Teammate Mohamed Ali Reda in the over 91kg weight category became the second Egyptian boxer to reach the semi-final and win at least a bronze when he defeated Lithuania's Jaroslav Jaksto on points 19/11.

Then, on Tuesday, Ahmed Ismail gave Egypt its third bronze medal of the Games after upstaging Greek Elias Pavlidis in the 81kg category. Though Pavlidis was leading 19-12 on points in the third round, the referee was forced to stop the fight after a deep gash above Pavlidis' eye could not be closed. The decision did not go down well with the partisan crowd who showed their displeasure by showering the ring with plastic water bottles.

Egypt's overall medal total in Olympic Games history thus jumped from 18 to 21.

Youth Minister Anas El-Fiqi telephoned the boxers after their victory. In Cairo, the minister announced that the two would receive LE500,000 each for the bronze medal in addition to LE200,000 each from businessmen.

Silver medalists will collect LE750,000 whereas LE1 million awaits the gold medalists.

No prize money will go to wrestler Mohamed Abdel-Fattah who after losing to his opponent from Belarus, was prevented from playing for fifth place after an altercation with the referee.

Karam Gaber in the Greco-Roman event is a genuine contender, however, Egypt's delegation has learnt not to get overly optimistic in the wake of the stunning fall of Nahla Ramadan. Egypt's world weightlifting champion in the 75kg weight category, Ramadan failed not only to fulfill Egypt's dream of winning an Olympic medal, but finished last in her event.

A report issued by the International Weightlifting Federation on the eve of the competition in Athens said Ramadan was top seed but would be challenged by Russian, Hungarian and Greek players. Ramadan, in fact, was opposition to no-one.

"I panicked," Ramadan told reporters in her hometown of Alexandria after her return from Athens. "I was surprised by the performance of my competitors which I didn't expect. They seemed different than before."

Different, perhaps, because after the world championships in Canada last year, they started training for the Olympics which is by most accounts tougher than the world championships.

"I have nothing to say to Egyptians who believed in me and had faith that I would be able to win except I'm sorry. I really wanted to make them happy, to become the first Egyptian woman to win an Olympic gold medal. But that's how it went. But I promise that it won't happen again and I will make it up for them in the coming world championships and Olympic Games."

The 19-year-old said she had been injured and was unable to lift her weights properly. "I only knew the extent of my injury a week before the event. I felt it in my legs."

After her event, Ramadan said she cried uncontrollably, and thought of retirement. But a phone call from the youth minister Anas El-Fiqi made her feel better.

"Nahla is still young. She has a long way to go and we will take care of her, even more so, in order to guarantee that such mistakes are not repeated," El-Fiqi said. "The first thing will be to get a new coach," the minister said at a press conference in Cairo, urging the press and officials to stand by the player because she is a real champion who failed "because of the mistakes of others."

El-Fiqi also called the player as soon as she landed in Alexandria's Nozha Airport where she was received by her family and friends.

Ramadan announced that she would hold a press conference on 31 August in which she will provide more details and to announce her new programme of action which will begin with treatment of her injury.

The beginning of the second week of the Games witnessed Egypt's team sports handball, hockey and waterpolo continue to drop like flies. Handball lost all five group matches against Germany, Hungary, France, Greece and Brazil to place bottom of the table. Surprisingly, Egypt, which had reached a high world No. 4 in 2001 and was ranked seventh in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, lost to Brazil, a team which had previously won only one match in its Olympic history. The 26-22 win made the Brazilian head coach Alberto Rigolo cry. "Why shouldn't I cry? Our victory is the first for us in this tournament. We had won only once before in our Olympic history," Rigolo told reporters following the game. Egypt handball will eventually finish 11th or 12th. In Barcelona in 1992, when Egypt was starting out on its handball odyssey, it placed 11th.

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