Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The target is Rio

Following the path of their ancestors, Egyptian archers get to show their skills in the 2016 Olympics, Heidi Elhakeem reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

While bows and arrows were used by ancient Egyptians in hunting and warfare, the skill known as archery has been reformed into a modern Olympic sport.

Egyptians made the first composite bow roughly in 2800 BC. The bow was then made from wood, tipped with animal horn and secured with animal sinew. This primitive bow model made mainly from animals’ sinew and intestines could be shot about 400 metres due to its light weight.

The LE20 Egyptian note also has the celebrated Pharaoh Ramsis holding a bow and aiming an arrow. There have been many iconic fictional archers, from the god of archery Apollo, to Robin Hood to Legolas of Lord of the Rings. These fantasy characters will be coming to life in the Olympic Games.

A pair of Egyptians will also be making an appearance in Rio. The 2016 African Archery Championship which took place in Windhoek, Namibia in January, acted as the continental qualification tournament for the Olympics. The top three archers, three men and three women, secured spots for their countries, with a maximum of one female and one male for each country.

In Windhoek, Egypt’s Ahmed Al-Nemr won a gold medal and Hadi Al-Kholosi won silver in the men’s individual recurve. Reem Mansour took the silver and Hania Fouda took bronze in the women’s individual recurve.

From around six Egyptian archers, two will be going to Rio. The final decision on the names rests on a few more upcoming tournaments prior to the Olympics.

“The final names of the two players going to Rio will be announced in about a month,” said Riham Swelem, board member of the Egyptian Archery Federation.

Since September last year the Egyptian national archery team has been coached by Ukrainian Viktor Galaziuk and wife Vectoria Coval. “We thought they were a good fit for the team and they provide a different training technique,” said Swelem. After negotiations with Alaa Gabr, the Archery Federation president, they both agreed on a salary “that fits our budget”, Swelem added.

The average age of champion archers is between 21-25. They usually start shooting by the age of 14, however, Al-Nemr started archery at the age of 28. It took him only five years of training until he made it to the 2012 London Olympics.

Al-Nemr was the first Arab-African to reach the 1/16 matches in the London 2012 Olympics. “I think Egypt’s the strongest team out of Arab and African teams. We have seen a steady positive development of scores over the past years,” Al-Nemr said.

Archery requires endurance, coordination and concentration. “In order to reach high levels in archery, you need to be patient and have a very positive attitude,” Al-Nemr said.

To compete internationally, Egyptian archers need physical fitness training about three times a week, including cardio training and shooting for about six to seven hours for six days a week.

A problem most archers face is time management, due to the demanding nature of the sport and the long hours of training. Juggling work or studies beside archery is a difficult challenge.

To make matters harder, there is no scouting per se in Egypt. There are clubs and there are local competitions: the Egypt Cup, national championships and other local competitions. From those, archers are ranked based on the score they shoot and the consistency of that score. In the past couple of years the national competitions have become the basis for seedings and selection to the national team.

Despite the drawbacks, in 2010 Egypt got a gold medal in the first Youth Olympic Games. And Al-Nemr hopes Egypt, whose team trains at the old hockey field in Cairo Stadium, will hit a high score in Rio.

At the recent 10th Arab Archery Championship in Marrakech, Morocco, Al-Nemr set a new Egyptian, Arab and African record of 657 out of 720. “I shot a new personal record for myself,” he said. He won three gold medals along teammates Aya Kamel, Al-Kholousi and Ali Hani. He took a bronze medal in the individual men’s category.

Egypt has three clubs in archery: Wadi Degla, Remaya and Shooting. “The federation supports its team members financially,” said Swelem. Some players are sponsored by clubs. Al-Nemr is sponsored by Wadi Degla.

Despite the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton showing off her archery skills in Bhutan during her recent tour of South Asia, archery is not a popular sport. People are not familiar with its equipment, especially at airport security checks. They are usually mistaken for weapons. “It takes hours to pass the equipment through airports,” Swelem said. “This is a problem especially for the young players who travel at the age of 14.”

Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz promised the Archery Federation that airport security checks will be resolved.

Despite the misunderstanding, archery is actually a safe sport. Injuries are as minor as muscle spasms.

Archery made its debut in the Paris 1900 Olympics. South Korea leads the archery world followed by the US and Belgium. South Korean women have dominated with 14 out of 15 Olympic gold medals since 1984, while their country’s men won four out of seven gold. The country has an overall total of 19 gold medals.

Eighty-four nations have competed in the Olympics. Recurve archery is the discipline of archery contested in the Olympics.

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