23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Debate Focus Profile Living Travel Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Our very own Bruce LeeBy Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
While China claimed overall honours at last month's world super kung fu championship in Hong Kong, Egypt's Basil El-Kilani came away with a title of no less accomplishment: the world's best player in the under-85 kilogramme weight category.
In the last kung fu championship this millennium, Egypt finished fourth, the only country to win five medals by the five players it entered. China came first with three gold medals, Russia second with two gold and one silver, Iran third with two golds and a bronze, followed by Egypt with one gold, two silver and two bronze.
To ensure a high competitive edge in the championship, each country entered its five best players in five weight categories. In the fight competition, the Sansho, Egypt's 23-year-old Rabie Gamil, in the under-48 category, took second place. Mahmoud Zeinhom, 25, in the under-65, took third, as did Khaled Salah, 21, in the under-70. Mohamed Seleit, 27, in under-80 took second and El-Kilani first in the under-85 and took first place.
In the Sansho semi-final, the 26-year-old El-Kilani beat Iran's best 2-1 after losing the first round. In the final, El-Kilani defeated his Romanian opponent in two straight rounds. To win a round, a player must throw his opponent outside what looks like a boxing ring but without the ropes.
"I dreamt of being a world champion but I didn't know which sport it would be," El-Kilani said soon after winning the crown. "I never enjoyed playing things like basketball and swimming. I loved to fight and I found it only in kung fu."
Ell-Kilani has a mind to go with the body. A graduate of English literature, he is known among his friends as a philosopher sort, and at home he's nicknamed 'sweet Basil'. But in the ring, this lamb has a wolf's killer instincts.
El-Kilani started playing kung fu at 17 in Mansoura. Already fit for the game after taking up gymnastics, boxing and wrestling as a youngster, he joined the national team in 1994 and became one of Egypt's top 10 players, not to mention an Arab champion as well. His international debut was against the Ukraine in 1994 in a friendly. He gained some weight at that time and played in the under-90 kg. In the 1995 world championship in Baltimore, he took the silver medal after beating players from Romania and France but lost to the world champion, a Brazilian.
Just one week prior to the 1997 world championship, El-Kilani injured his leg while training in Romania and missed out on the tournament. While in the army, El-Kilani took up boxing and won first place in an armed forces competition. Following that feat, he trained harder than ever for kung fu and realised, perhaps for the first time, that he had a knack only for games of self-defence. His skills were honed by Chinese as well as Egyptian trainers.
"My aim is to see kung fu being dominated by Egyptians," El-Kilani said, urging people not to let the sport frighten them off. "On the outside, it's an aggressive sport but it makes one more peaceful and gentle from within."