Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 August 2008
Issue No. 910
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Still in time

As the first week of the Olympic Games closed, Egyptians were still in search of an opportunity to take a place on the podium, Inas Mazhar reports

Click to view caption
Karam Gaber lifting the Egyptian flag at the opening ceremony; Shaimaa El-Gammal of Egypt (r) competes against compatriot Iman Shaaban during their women's individual foil fencing competition; Mohamed Abdel-Baqi of Egypt competes in the men's 62kg Group B clean and jerk weightlifting competition; Aheen El-Hady of Egypt (blue) reacts after defeating Taylor Takata of the US during their men's 66kg repechage judo match and Bo Spellerberg of Denmark jumps to shoot a goal while dodging Egypt's Hany El-Fakharany during their men's preliminaries Group B handball match

On their first week at the Beijing Olympic Games, the Egyptian athletes by no means put on an impressive performance. Before the week was up, some Egyptian athletes had already returned empty-handed after losing on the qualifiers or the main draw -- namely those competing in shooting, fencing, rowing, gymnastics and boxing. Others, however, still have a chance, since they have managed to make it to the second round of a number of competitions.

This year Egyptians are taking part in handball, volleyball, fencing, wrestling, boxing, equestrian, modern pentathlon, tae kwon do, badminton, synchronized swimming, judo, table-tennis, athletics, weightlifting, archery, gymnastics, rowing, shooting and swimming.

The second week at the Beijing Olympics may indeed hold surprises and possible chances for the Egyptians, especially for Aya Medani competing in the modern pentathlon and Karam Gaber in wrestling.

Egypt has done well so far in one of the two team sport competitions it is taking part in at the Olympic Games -- and that's handball. African champions Egypt surprised European champions Denmark with a strong performance on their opener of the handball competition. The match ended 23-23 after Egypt led by one with seconds to go on the clock. Right-back Ahmed El Ahmar and team captain Hussein Zaky, who secured their team's first point at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, are the players to watch in this tournament, according to the Games official website.

The teams were evenly matched throughout the first half. Lars Roslyng Christiansen, Jesper Jensen and Joachim Rietveld Boldsen ensured Denmark kept on level terms, while Egypt's Ahmed El Ahmar impressed in attack, scoring eight goals. After 15 minutes of the first half, Mahmoud Hassaballah of Egypt had to leave the court after injuring his leg. Egypt's defence was strong for most of the match and goalkeeper Mohamed Nakib did a great job, saving 46 percent of the Danish shots.

After receiving two two-minute suspensions in the first half, Kasper Nielsen of Denmark was sent off 14 minutes into the second half. From that point, Egypt managed to reduce the deficit, overtaking Denmark in the 57th minute before the Danes fought back to tie the match.

Egypt was scheduled to face Russia in the second match of the handball tournament late on Tuesday. The former world and Olympic champions Russia were surprisingly beaten in their opener 31-33 by Iceland. Most of the six previous matches between the two teams have been very close, and in most, Russia has emerged victorious -- apart from a World Championships win by Egypt in 2001.

Volleyball, the second team sport in which Egypt is competing, didn't hold so much promise as did handball as Egypt lost the opener to Brazil, top favourites to win the gold medal.

Brazil powered past a battling Egyptian side in straight sets 25-19, 25-15, 25-18 in pool B of the Men's Volleyball tournament. Brazil displayed speed, power and finesse early on as they grabbed a 5-0 lead, with Marcelo Elgarten's creative settings being converted into points by his hitters. Egypt had only opposite hitter Ahmed Abdel Naeim as their offensive option and they were struggling against the Brazilian block. It was a well-balanced first set for Brazil as they displayed good offence to comfortably claim the set.

In the second set, Egypt showed more resistance and matched up with Brazil point after point. Saleh Youssef rallied his team, making consecutive spikes on the outside.

Brazil, though, heeded the warning and regained the momentum, with Andre Heller scoring big hits on the middle. Andre Nascimento hit the final point for Brazil to close out the set.

Heller continued to be Brazil's go-to player as he scored points on his attacks and in defense at the start of the third set. Bruno Rezende scored an ace to bring Brazil closer to victory at 23-17 and then a Gilberto Godoy Filho block closed the set and match.

Godoyfilho was the top scorer for Brazil with 12 points while Youssef scored 11 for Egypt.

Egypt was also scheduled to face Poland, a former Olympic gold medalist on Tuesday, while Brazil's faced Serbia.

In the individual sports categories, the draw has been very tough in fencing when two Egyptian female fencers had to clash in an early round, therefore giving the chance to only one to make it to the second round. Iman Shaaban, 19, proved that age can beat experience when she upset her 28-year-old teammate Shaimaa El-Gamal 15-12 in the first round, which included 64 female fencers. However Shabaan's bad draw put her against the South Korean five- time world champion Nam Hioun, who beat the Egyptan 15-6. On the other hand, Iman El-Gammal, Shaimaa's younger sister, was also eliminated from the tournament on the hands of Holland's champion.

In weightlifting, Mohamed Abdel-Baqi, who participates in the second group of the 62 kg-weight category was placed eighth. The Egyptian lifted a total of 288 kg: 159kg in the jerk and 129kg in the snatch. According to the game's regulations the players are divided into two groups. The second, in which Abdel-Baqi took part, includes the weightlifters with less records than the first group.

In the shooting event, Mohamed Abdellah bid the Games an early farewell when he came 43rd in the 15-metres pistol event with a 586 score. Altogether 51 marksmen took part in this event.

In rowing, African champion Ali Ibrahim finished last in the individual event quarterfinals. Ibrahim was set to play for a place from the 13th to the 24th for the second time in the Olympics. In Athens 2004, he had reached that level. Teammate female rower Heba Ahmed was set to play from the 25th to the 30th place.

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