Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Three bronze and many opinions

The Egyptian delegation bid farewell to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games with three bronze medals. Inas Mazhar reports from Rio de Janeiro

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s last medal came in taekwondo in the second week of the Olympic Games when Hedaya Malak beat her Belgium opponent Raheleh Asemair in the 57kg weight category by the golden point in a play-off.  

A 23-year-old prodigy, Malak had made a good start in the competition, thrashing Colombia’s Doris Patino 13-0 in the round of 16, then beating the world No 2, Japan’s Mayu Hamada by the golden point in the quarter-final. However, Malak lost the semi-final to Spain’s Eva Gomez by the golden point after they played three scoreless bouts (after three scoreless bouts, the athletes play another round with the winner scoring the first point).

Malak’s bronze was Egypt’s last medal in Rio 2016 and came following a one-week draught after the two bronze medals which were won in weightlifting by Sara Samir in the 69kg weight category and Mohamed Ihab in the 77kg weight category.

Malak’s bronze medal was an unprecedented achievement for Egypt and the region as it is the first time an Arab woman has won an Olympic medal in taekwondo.

“I am so happy I won this medal and made people happy, my family, the Egyptians here in the stands and the Egyptians back home,” Malak told Al-Ahram Weekly in the mixed zone of the Carioca 3 hall, venue of the taekwondo event after the victory ceremony.

“I know they were watching me as I played almost at dawn Egypt time, but they still waited to watch me. I really appreciate that and I am glad the result was worth the wait.

“I have won many world and international medals including gold and silver. But it has never felt like this medal. The Olympic medal is different. It is more precious. It resembles history. Nations boast of their Olympic history records, not world championships. I am happy I have become part of that Egyptian history in the books of the Olympic Games. I also feel proud to be the first Egyptian and Arab female to win a taekwondo Olympic medal.  

“I wish I had played for the gold medal. Actually, I was targeting the gold since the beginning but it didn’t go as planned. It happens. I have played against Spain’s Gomez several times and know her playing style and have even beaten her before. Anyway, I have made it to the Olympic podium and claimed the bronze and that is an achievement I thank God for.  

“I would like to thank my mother and brother for coming all the way to Rio to support me in my quest to win an Olympic medal. My mother is the most important person in my life and great supporter as well. I dedicate this medal to her and all Egyptians.

“This medal is also so valuable because it came after a huge effort and hard work for me to reach such a high level. It took years of tough and serious training camps and participating in national, regional and international championships. It didn’t come by chance. I thank my Spanish coach for believing in me and for making a difference,” Malak added.

The world No 3 revealed to the Weekly that she had to drop out of her fourth and final year in the Faculty of Fine Arts in order to concentrate on the Olympic Games. “It was very hard to attend classes and work on my graduation project in the same year I was training and preparing for the Olympic Games, especially when everyone expected me to win an Olympic medal. It was very difficult to cope. So, I had to choose between my dream and education. I decided to postpone it until next year so I can fulfill not only my dream but the nation’s dream as well and I am glad I did,” Malak said.

For her achievement, she will be awarded LE500,000 as prize money for winning an Olympic bronze medal but she has no idea what she is going to do with it. “I simply don’t know. I didn’t think of it and I don’t care. What mattered to me is the Olympic medal and that’s it. What I am really thinking about for the time being is how much I need to rest, relax, sleep and enjoy what I missed. I would like to go to the beach and maybe read as well.”

It seems the Olympic medal has opened Malak’s appetite and increased her ambitions. “In my first participation in Rio, I claimed the bronze. I am looking forward to Tokyo 2020 and this time the gold medal will be my main goal. After the break, we’ll start planning for that,” Malak said.

Egypt finished 75 in the medals table. Out of the 207 participating nations in the 31st edition of the Olympic Games, only 89 countries won medals.

“This is an achievement in itself,” Egyptian National Olympic Committee president Hisham Hatab said. “Egypt took part in the Olympic Games with 120 male and female athletes. In addition to the three bronze medalists, there were also some remarkable achievements that nobody noticed or even cared to highlight. I personally received 18 certificates of appreciation from the International Olympic Committee for our athletes who won places from one to eight. They are among the best eight in the world and if the IOC recognises them, then why do we underestimate their achievements?” Hatab asked.

“If people and the media back home are criticising us for a poor performance, then what do more than 120 countries who got nothing do? Actually all those who qualified to the Olympic Games from all over the world is an achievement in itself. To secure a place in the world’s No 1 sports tournament is great. This is sports where there are winners and losers. You can’t expect everyone to win. We are going to hold a press conference as soon as we arrive in Cairo to clarify everything to the media and public and answer all questions,” Hatab added.

Besides Egypt’s three bronze medals, there was one fourth-place finish by Shaimaa Haridi in the 62kg weightlifting category. Six athletes secured a fifth place finish including two weightlifters, Ahmed Saad (62kg) and Ragab Abdel-Hai (94kg), Enas Khorsheid (free wresting), Hossam Bakr (boxing), and Ahmed Qamar and Afaf Al-Hodhod (shooting).

Three athletes and two teams secured seventh place finishes, including judo’s Ramadan Darwish (100kg), taekwondo’s Gofran Zaki (68kg), weightlifter Israa Ahmed (63kg), the men’s foil fencing and synchronised swimming.

As usual, the US finished atop the table with a total of 121 medals: 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze medals. Great Britain came second with 67 medals — 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze, while China came third with 70 medals (26 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze). Despite a doping scandal which prevented many of its athletes from taking part, Russia came fourth with 56 medals including 19 gold, 18 silver and 19 bronze medals. Germany was fifth with 42 medals, including 17 gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze.

The Olympic Games ended Sunday with a spectacular closing ceremony at the famous Maracana Stadium, just 24 hours after Neymar led Brazil’s football team to the event’s gold medal against Germany. The dazzling ceremony was described as beyond the imagination and even more striking than the opening ceremony. The athletes seemed happy despite the rain and no one could distinguish between the winners and losers. They were all celebrating their participation and the friendship they have built up during the two-week event.

Closer in feel to a rock concert than a ceremony, the high-energy mix of music, dance and physical art neatly summed up the sense of joyful abandon that the city prides itself on.

Taking up the theme from Fernando Meirelles’ opening ceremony, technology and extravagance were spurned in favour of swaying hips, pulsating rhythms and stunning visuals brought to life by hundreds of local dancers. A section in which artist Burle Marx’s instantly recognisable swirls rippled across the stage accompanied by one of Tom Jobim’s classic tunes was a particular crowd-pleaser.

The seemingly curious choice of house DJ Kygo to launch the Olympic channel came off, with a selection of medal-winning athletes letting go of any inhibitions they may once have possessed and dancing wildly to the Norwegian’s upbeat tunes.

Samba, frevo and choro — dances synonymous with Brazil’s rich musical heritage — all made a welcome bow, while the predicted rain just about stayed away. It would have needed a storm of epic proportions to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of high-class athletes in attendance. Released from the demands of their rigorous training and lifestyle constraints, the exuberant smiles on the familiar and not-so-familiar faces highlighted a certain sense of relief that it is all over.

Geographically, Japan is almost as far from Brazil as you can get, and Tokyo’s 2020 handover ceremony gave a glimpse into a Games that will have its own, very different identity. Neon, high-tech graphics and robotic-like dancers on hidden, body-controlled scooters marked an about-turn from Rio’s natural rhythms.

The emergence of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe from a large green pipe dressed in the guise of the 1980s video game icon Super Mario did indicate Tokyo 2020 has inherited Rio’s admirable sense of self-deprecation.

Bringing the Games full circle, Renato Sorriso, the quick-stepping road sweeper who charmed the world during the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony, led the stadium into an inevitable final street carnival.

A total of 11,245 athletes from 206 nations in addition the team of Refugees took part in the Olympic Games which were held from 5 to 21 August. They took part in 28 sports, 42 sports disciplines, 306 events and competed for 2,488 medals. The Games also saw 7.5 million tickets being sold and more than 6,000 hours of TV witnessed by 1.2 billion viewers all over the world.

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