Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Building No 17

Inas Mazhar sees how Egypt has prepared for the Rio Olympics, going with its biggest sports delegation ever

Alaa Abu Al-Kassem (Fencing)
Alaa Abu Al-Kassem (Fencing)
Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s contingent to the Rio Summer Games, its biggest ever for an Olympics, flew to Rio de Janeiro over four stages, with the last due to arrive on 8 August. The delegation comprises a total of 120 athletes after the injury and subsequent withdrawal of two athletes, Mustafa Al-Gamal in athletics and weightlifter Mohamed Ihsan who was replaced.

Medal contender javelin thrower Ihab Abdel-Rahman was suspended after a doping sample taken in April came back positive. Accordingly, the athlete was suspended immediately. Though the Egyptian Olympic Committee had called for a re-analysis of sample B as soon as possible before the Games and offered to pay any extra fees so that the player can catch up with the Games, the procedure proved impossible on such short notice.

The 120 Egyptian athletes will be taking part in 20 sports: archery, volleyball, handball, table-tennis, judo, taekwondo, equestrian, sailing, modern pentathlon, canoe, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, athletics, swimming, shooting, rowing, fencing, gymnastics and cycling. Forty are women which makes it the highest number of female participants ever from Egypt in an Olympics.

The Egyptian delegation arrived at the Olympic Village days ago and was allocated the top floors of building No 17. “We share the building with Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and others so we feel cozy with our neighbouring countries, on the map and here in the real world,” Sharif Al-Erian, deputy president of the Egyptian delegation, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The Olympic Village is a great place and the athletes are enjoying their stay as they train for their competitions and mingle with other athletes from all over the world in the Olympic Village plaza.

“Actually, we are lucky to be accommodated in building 17. Its location is perfect. We are in the middle of the other buildings and are close to all services and facilities,” Al-Erian said.

Al-Erian, who was among the first officials to arrive in Rio, added that the Egyptians were looking forward to the opening ceremony, especially the team parade part. However, he said that they have not yet decided on who will be the delegation’s flag bearer at the opening. “So far, we haven’t made up our minds. We have some options. Actually, the IOC has given all participating countries a deadline of 4 August to confirm their flag bearers,” Al-Erian said.

Egypt’s flag bearers in the past were selected based on their world performances the year of the Olympic Games. But ever since Egypt returned to winning Olympic medals starting from the 2004 Athens Games, flag bearers in the next editions were selected based on the medals won. So, Athens gold medalist Karam Gaber was the flag bearer in Bejing 2008, and judo silver medalist Hisham Mesbah in Beijing was the flag bearer of the London 2012 Games where Gaber and fencer Alaa Abu Al-Kassem won two silver medals. And since Gaber is now suspended because of doping, Abu Al-Kassem remains the favourite. Rumours have it that the Egyptian delegation might also be thinking of a female athlete for the honour.

According to Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz, the government spent LE140 million to prepare the athletes to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “This amount was spent over three years during which the athletes achieved numerous and impressive world titles, broke personal and world records and set new ones in some sports. So on our way to building up for the Olympic Games, our athletes benefited a lot, won medals, improved their world ranking, gained more experience and maintained self-confidence. These are all achievements which will definitely have an impact on their performances at the Games,” Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly.

“We are glad so many Egyptian athletes in different sports have managed to qualify to the world’s biggest sports event in the world,” Abdel-Aziz added. He also confirmed that the ministry had kept its promise with all sports federations by sending all qualified athletes to the Olympic Games as was pledged. “It had been agreed with all federations that whoever made the effort and earned the qualification ticket to the Games should join the delegation with no limit to the number, provided they are in good shape and have no injuries.”
In previous Olympic Games, some sports federations would select some athletes who qualified to travel but denied others, claiming they would not achieve good results.
“The Olympic Games was created under a motto of ‘participation’ for all those who qualified, so as I said, any athlete who qualified has the right to travel and to participate. Who knows, they might achieve better results,” Abdel-Aziz said.
According to the minister, Egypt stands a chance of winning seven to eight medals in this summer’s Olympic Games. “But this is not certain. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to sports and competition. As we have seen, one of our top athletes, Ihab Abdel-Rahman, was a serious medal contender but is now out of the Olympics just days before travelling. Meanwhile, we hope we can achieve three or four medals from those eight. Still, who knows? This is sports and surprises can happen anytime.
“Hopefully we can go further and make history. The ministry has provided all the sports federations with all the facilities required for preparing for the Olympic Games and has been very generous with all sports, allowing them to build up for the Games by taking part in international camps, friendlies and official world championships, whatever the cost. So, we hope the Egyptian delegation makes an impressive record in Rio,” Abdel-Aziz said.
The highest number of medals won by Egypt in an Olympic Games was five in Athens 2004. They included a gold, a silver and three bronze medals. In London 2012, Egypt won a silver medal in two sports — Gaber in wrestling and Abu Al-Kassem in fencing. Interestingly, Egypt is on the verge of adding two more late medals in weightlifting. In the wake of the international doping scandal of the results of the Beijing and London Games, and with less than two months to go for the Rio Olympic Games in August, Egypt received news that its weightlifter Tarek Yehia Abdel-Azim could be awarded a bronze medal in the 85 kg weightlifting competition of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Abdel-Azim finished fourth in the competition which saw Adrian Edward Zielinski of Poland win the gold, Apti Aukhadov of Russia winning silver and Iran’s Kianoush Rostami the bronze medal.

But a recent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed that the silver medalist Aukhadov’s London sample had been tested positive for doping. Accordingly, Abdel-Azim would earn the bronze medal when the IOC strips the silver medal from Aukhadov. The bronze medalist Rostami of Iraq will receive the silver.

Another Egyptian will improve his Olympic position in the same weight category. Abdel-Hai Saad Abdel-Razek will jump from the sixth to fifth.

And just a week before the Games another weightlifter, this time a female, Abeer Abdel-Rahman, was awarded a silver medal in the 75 kg weight category. Abdel-Rahman finished fifth in the final results but has now jumped three positions after the first three medalists all tested for doping. Abdel-Rahman’s achievement makes her now the first ever Egyptian female athlete to win an Olympic medal in the history of Egyptian sports. Abdel-Rahman, now retired, was thrilled with the news.

A total of 6,250 samples was the maximum number of doping samples tested in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games of London.

Both athletes, Abdel-Azim and Abdel-Rahman, were received by minister Abdel-Aziz and the Egyptian NOC president Hisham Hatab and congratulated for their victory—albeit belated. “However, this is not official. We still need to receive official notifications from the IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation with the change of the result so that the two can be officially recognised for their achievement by the Egyptian government and receive the same prize money and orders of merit as their winning colleagues,” said Mamdouh Al-Sheshtawi, the Egypt NOC executive director.

“Egypt is not the only country which has benefited from all those positive doping results. Many others have. The number is huge. We believe the IOC should, once they are done with the Olympic Games, consider preparing a huge podium celebration for those real champions who missed the chance to celebrate on the spot during the Games,” Al-Sheshtawi added.

Since Brazil is five hours behind Egypt, Egyptians back home will have to stay awake almost until dawn to be able to watch the competitions live on television. Furthermore, there is no crew from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) in Brazil to cover the Games. The trip was cancelled due to financial and budget constraints. ERTU officials found it too costly to send a crew, especially when they are non-right holders to the Games, meaning they are not allowed access to film or hold interviews within any of the Olympic venues. So, Egyptians are now left to watch the Games on satellite channels that have paid half a billion dollars to broadcast the Games, including beIN sport and Abu Dhabi Sport for the Middle East and North Africa region. Only those who have subscriptions will be lucky to watch the Games live. Other options include videos on social media and Internet outlets.

Those who might deliver

Egypt's hopes for an Olympic medal depend on nine athletes

Alaa Abu Al-Kassem (Fencing)

He is Africa’s reigning champion and winner of the 2015 African team title. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist is eyeing a gold medal this time or at least defending his silver medal. In 2011, Abu Al-Kassem was the world’s fifth ranked player.

Sara Samir (Weightlifting)

The world juniors gold medalist in 2013 and 2015 and the world No four in the World Championships in 2015. In 2014, the 17-year-old Samir stunned the world of weightlifting when she claimed the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.

Mohamed Ihab (Weightlifting)

The 77 kg weight category athlete is twice the world’s silver medallist, winning his two titles in 2014 and 2015. In 2009 he won gold at the African Championship. A year before, he claimed the silver medal at the World Championships.

Amr Al-Geziri (Modern Pentathlon)

In 2014, he became the first Egyptian player to win a silver medal at the World Modern Pentathlon Championship. From there Al-Geziri won another silver in the 2015 World Cup in Rome, then a gold at the World Cup which was held in Cairo earlier this year, plus a fourth place finish at the World Championship two months ago.

Azmi Mehelba (Shooting)

The skeet marksman claimed three medals in 2014 after impressive worldwide performances: a gold at the African Championship, a silver in the World Cup and a bronze in the World Championship. This year, he won the silver at the World Cup and a gold medal in the Masters of Italy.

Mohamed Abdel-Aal (Judo)

The 26-year-old is another judoka who made a name for himself in just two years by winning the All-Africa Games gold medal in 2015 and another gold at the European Open in the same year. This year he claimed the African Championship gold medal in the 81 kg weight category. But the biggest achievement of his career was in May when he shocked the world of judo by taking the bronze medal at the World Judo Masters in Mexico.

Ramadan Darwish (Judo)

The 100 kg weight category champion stole the show in 2009 when he claimed the bronze medal in the World Championship. In 2015, he won the silver medal in the Dusseldorf Grand Prix. This year saw him reach his peak with a gold in the Grand Prix in Budapest and another gold in the European Open.

Hedaya Malak (Taekwondo)

The 22-year-old is this year’s Africa’s gold medallist in the 57 kg weight category and winner of the 2015 Grand Prix gold medalist as well the 2014 gold medal at the Luxor International Open Championship.

Hossam Bakr (Boxing)

He first appeared in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 where he finished sixth. In 2013, he won the silver medal at the Mediterranean Games. But it was in 2015 that he reached his peak after claiming the gold medal at the African Championship and the bronze medal of the World Championship. He competes in the 75 kg weight category.

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