Olympic medal and more
Angy Essam profiles one of Egypt's medallists in London and another athlete who won something just as precious
Alaaeddin Abul-Qassem, 22, is the Egyptian who won a silver medal in fencing in London 2012, Africa and the Arab world's first Olympic medal ever in the sport.
The story began in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria where Abul-Qassem was born in 1990 to an Algerian mother and an Egyptian father. "My journey with fencing began when I was only eight," Abul-Qassem said. At that time the now defunct National Sports Council had founded a programme especially tailored for school students called Talent School. Coaches of various sports would visit schools to try to discover talented students. Abul-Qassem added that he was chosen and succeeded in a test he was given, after which began his journey with fencing.
Abul-Qassem said he trained a lot especially in the Alexandrian fencing club headed by Ibrahim Abdel-Aziz. He joined four years ago and assigned him a foreign coach. Abul-Qassem added that the system was to evaluate a player every six months. If he achieved the planned results and won the targeted championships he would continue in the programme but if not he would have to leave. "Thank God I succeeded in every evaluation," said Abul-Qassem.
The London Olympics was not the first championship Abul-Qassem had won. He took first place in the world Under-20 championships in 2009. In the world championship in Paris in 2010 he ended up sixth. He won the Arab Games championship in 2011, a Cuban tournament in 2012 and an event in France in 2012.
Abul-Qassem had a strong feeling he would do well in London but things took a nasty turn when his father passed away five months ago. Abul-Qassem admitted that his father was his greatest proponent and motivator. "He used to take me to training when I was a child. And when I grew up he used to watch me practice.''
People around Abul-Qassem thought his father's passing would make him depressed, broken and that he would lose his reason for winning. On the contrary Abul-Qassem became much more motivated. "Before his death, my dad shared with me the feeling of victory and we dreamt together about a medal. I think it was his dearest wish, it was his last bequest for me to fulfil," said Abul-Qassem. He added that from that moment on he swore to himself that he would win a medal and dedicate it to his father's soul.
Abul-Qassem said that Egyptians were "happy, proud and even dazzled" by his performance during the Olympics, as was told him. He said he was close to winning the final match against his Chinese opponent but received a shoulder injury so had to forfeit the round. "I will never in my entire life forget the ovation people gave me in the airport when I arrived from London and the true happiness I saw in their eyes," said Abul-Qassem. He was extremely proud that he succeeded in making Egyptians that happy. Farouk El-Amri, the minister of sport, received Abul-Qassem at the ministry to celebrate his victory and gave him LE675,000 for his Olympic silver medal.
Abul-Qassem believes that there should be more attention paid to individual games and its players. He added that all the focus is on football. "If the other games could get the same attention they will achieve amazing results." Abul-Qassem also asked for consideration to be given champions in education. "I was kicked out of the Faculty of Engineering in Alexandria University because of exceeding the permitted number of days absent," said Abul-Qassem who was ranked eighth worldwide in fencing before the Olympics but who has now jumped to the first four players in the world. He said there was no recognition from his school teachers of his circumstances or the championship he won. He is now in his second year in the Faculty of Engineering in the Arab Academy for Technology and Maritime Transport "and they truly appreciate my special circumstances.
"I dedicate the silver medal to the souls of our martyrs in the Egyptian army who died in Rafah. They sacrificed their lives for Egypt's sake," said Abul-Qassem, referring to the 16 Egyptian soldiers who were killed in an ambush in Sinai last month by as yet unidentified assailants.
Abul-Qassem will start from now to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 to perhaps add a new Olympic medal to Egypt's history.
Meantime, Abeer Abdel-Rahman, 20, is the Egyptian weightlifter who despite not winning a medal in London succeeded in gaining the respect of people by her insistence and will to do well.
Abdel-Rahman's story with the weights began when she was only nine. Her trainer was Ramadan Abdel-Moeti, the father of the weightlifter Nahla Ramadan, Abdel-Rahman's teammate. In 2003 when she was 11 she joined the weightlifting team for juniors.
Abdel-Rahman won three gold medals in the Arabian championship in Egypt in 2007. She took two gold medals in the world championship for youth in Colombia in 2008. She finished fifth in Beijing in 2008 when she was only 16. Perhaps as a result she said that everybody expected her to win a medal in London.
Abdel-Rahman lifted 141kg in the semi-final round. In the final, she lifted 151kg but fell to the floor and was almost pinned down as the weight rolled atop her neck which suffered a bruise. Abdel-Rahman's coach and teammates ran quickly towards her. "When they helped me stand up and placed me in a wheelchair all the spectators applauded me, showing their respect. At that moment I forgot all the pain in my body," said Abdel-Rahman.
Abdel-Rahman who finished fifth in London asked the media to show more interest in weightlifters "because they suffer from media negligence." She urged the weightlifting sports union to pay more attention to its athletes and give them enough technical and financial support.
Abdel-Rahman's greatest hope was to win a medal in the London Olympics to dedicate it to Egypt. That didn't happen "but I will not lose hope and I will hopefully win a medal in the next Olympics in 2016."