Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Beating the snow-filled odds

At the World Winter Games in Austria, Egypt’s Special Olympics athletes struck gold even though they were playing on unfamiliar terrain

World Winter Games (photo: Khaled El-Fiqi)

Egyptians returned victorious from the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria with five medals: three gold, a silver and a bronze. Egypt, a country that never or rarely sees snow, managed to claim the medals in snowshoeing and floor hockey, the two sports it took part in. One of the three gold medals was won by the floor hockey team while the other two were collected by Mohamed Abdo in the 100 metre snowshoeing and the third by the snowshoeing race team in the 4x100 metre relay which comprised Abdo, Shaaban Ashraf and two female athletes Israa Gamal and Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Abdo added another silver medal to his tally in the 200-metre snowshoeing. The bronze was taken by Israa Gamal in the 100 metres.

According to Ahmed Samir Abdel-Maged, head coach of the floor hockey team, Egypt struggled in a tough group which included Algeria, the UAE and Cyprus. “Despite losing the first game to the Algerians 3-1, Egypt managed to beat Cyprus 7-3 and the Emirates 2-1.”

Ayman Abdel-Wahab, president and regional managing director of Special Olympics the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)region,more celebrations of appreciation await the athletes who achieved “the impossible” by winning their medals.

Winter Games

“They have been truly amazing in both sports. In floor hockey, they went through tough and thrilling matches against the Emirates and Cyprus to win the gold medal. But the most impressive and astounding results actually came in snowshoeing. There is no snow in Egypt. They had to train on sand instead and they had about a couple of days to train on real snow in Schladming after their arrival. Yet, they managed to amaze the crowds as they went for gold, silver and bronze medals despite the stiff competition they faced especially in the 4x100 team relay,” Abdel-Wahab said.

“The floor hockey final between Egypt and the Emirates was the most thrilling of the whole competition. Though the nine-game match ended 2-1, it was a truly epic final. That is why they will be rewarded for their huge success. We’ll hold a big celebration in their honour which will be attended by top state officials as appreciation for their amazing achievements and remarkable victories, a thank you for making their nation so proud,” Abdel-Wahab said.

In addition to participating in sports, Egypt made an appearance in the programmes ‘Healthy Athletes’, ‘Global Messengers’, ‘Families’ and ‘Youth Summit.

The Egyptian delegation was accompanied by Egypt’s renowned actor Hussein Fahmi, Special Olympics International global ambassador. Fahmi, who goes with the Egyptians and the MENA region’s other delegations to every event, led the Egyptian delegation in both the opening and closing ceremonies.

“I feel lucky to be there among these athletes. Every time I take part in any national, regional or international Special Olympics events, I feel proud of them. They continue to dazzle me every time with their persistence, will, determination and stamina. I believe they know nothing in this world except the word ‘challenge’ which is deeply rooted in their minds and hearts. They also have such loyalty to the name of their country ‘Egypt’ which is why the nation should show them its appreciation in return,” Fahmi told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The big closing ceremony at Liebenau Stadium was characterised by the same beautiful positive energy as the opening ceremony at Schladming. Again, more than 15,000 people witnessed the event, making it so crowded that another audience section had to be added. The 90-minute show offered a well-balanced mix of typically Styrian elements and energetic international dance and acrobatics performances by artists of the Cirque du Soleil and world champion in dancing Louis van Amstel.

Musically, the show presented us with familiar faces from the opening ceremony: Rose May Alaba performed the Coca-Cola Unified song ‘Can you feel it’. The atmosphere reached its emotional peak when Helene Fischer appeared on stage and presented the official anthem of the World Winter Games 2017, ‘Fighter’, just like a week before in Schladming. The president of Special Olympics Austria, Jürgen Winter, then handed the SO flag to the hosts of the next Games: Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates also gave us an impressive presentation of what to expect in 2019.

The dance group Ich bin O.K., with their protagonist Maria Naber, offered an enchanting performance just like at the opening ceremony. She particularly impressed Austrian folk star Andreas Gabalier whom she presented a lit-up heart after his unplugged performance of his song ‘Steirerland’.

The ‘Flame of Hope’ lay at the heart of the address by Siegfried Nagl, mayor of Graz. His message: “The flame might be gone but the fire is still burning”. It served to remind the audience that the fire that the Games had set must not go out. The 13-year-old America´s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal got the audience moving when she performed her two songs ‘I don´t know my name’ and ‘Light the sky’ before she handed the stage over to honorary president of Special Olympics Austria, superstar actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m so happy that you are all here because you are all the greatest athletes in the world. And I’m really proud of these Games. They were the best and biggest in history,” Schwarzenegger said.

‘Heartbeat for the world’ was the motto of this year´s Special Olympics World Winter Games, the world’s largest winter sports event for people with mental impairments which took place from 14-25 March. More than 2,600 athletes from 105 nations, 1,100 trainers, 5,000 family members, 3,000 volunteers and 600 journalists were present at the sporting venues at Graz, Schladming and Ramsau am Dachstein. Eight days of competition resulted in 1,000 medals.

The World Winter Games were the initial impulse for a new culture of exchange which was characterised by openness, warmth and by working together instead of against each other. This was easily seen even before the competition began, with the Torch Run and the enthusiastic realisation of the Host Town programme across Austria.

Those participating in both programmes were hugely responsible for the thousands of spectators as well as the award ceremonies and therefore were behind the countless moments of heart-warming emotions as well as the exuberant atmosphere at all the venues. And there’s even more good news: apart from a few slight injuries, there were no complications whatsoever during this beautiful event.

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