In true Egyptian style, scandal and embarrassment has hit our Olympians before the competitions have even started. It could have been worse; rather than receiving fake Nike kits, the Egyptian Olympic committee could have sent El Tawheed We El Noor’s latest ‘Adidos’ gear.
But out of the ashes of humiliation, Cairo 360 can do nothing but laugh to cover the shame and look onward with waning hope. Our boys and girls are competing in no less than twenty events and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they can bring back a medal or two – preferably gold.
So consider this a ‘dummy’s’ guide to Egypt at the Olympics; if we’re going to win, these are the events we’re holding high hopes for.
We had to start with the country’s favourite sport. The Egyptian Olympic football team has the misfortunes of facing tournament favourites, Brazil, in their opening game, though Egypt’s senior team have given their Brazilian counterparts a run for their money before. Although rules dictate that only under 23 are eligible to take part in the Olympic football tournament, three over-age players can be recruited by each squad. Egypt couldn’t have chosen their three better; striker Emad Moteb, jack-of-all-trades Ahmed Fathy, and most importantly, Mohamed Aboutrika – widely hailed by the football community worldwide as the best player plying his trade in Africa. At the age of thirty three, Aboutrika is well past his peak, but there’s no better Olympic representative than this guy; dedicated, professional, humble and intelligent, a few of Egypt’s bigger football stars would do well to follow in his footsteps.
Coached by former international defender Hany Ramzy – who spent much of his career kicking lumps out of strikers in Germany – a lot is riding on the success of this team, considering that our women’s football team failed to qualify.
Four years ago in Beijing, 30 year-old judoka, Hesham Mesbah, achieved the unthinkable by winning bronze in the 90kg judo weight class; Egypt’s first medal in judo for twenty-four years. Four years later, and Mesbah has the honour of being Egypt’s flag bearer in London. It’s a role that sounds more impressive than it is, but the multi-medal winning martial-artist will proudly carry the Egyptian flag during the opening ceremony.
Also representing Egypt in judo will be Islam El Shehaby who, in the past decade, has collected three gold medals at the annual African Judo Championships.
Speaking of flag bearers, Karam Gaber was honoured with the role at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, even though he didn’t qualify. This came as a shock to the sports community in Egypt as Gaber had won gold in Greco-Roman wrestling at 96kg at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He quickly followed up that success with gold in the 2005 Mediterranean Games in Spain. But subsequent fame and several miserable endorsements and ad campaigns set the hulking wrestler off track. At thirty-three years of age, this is surely Gaber’s last shot at success.
As the single Egyptian representative in the Modern Pentathlon, Aya Medany will compete in five events; fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running. The twenty-three year old Cairene is no stranger to the Olympics, having come in at a respectable eighth place in Beijing four years ago.
Her journey hasn’t been without controversy, though; Medany’s hijab has been an issue, particularly in the swimming event. Olympic rules decree that any swimming garments cannot cover an athletes’ neck or reach below their knees. It’s a concern that has forced Medany to consider retiring from professional competition and concentrate on her teaching job at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport in Heliopolis. It’s a damn shame; since 2003, Medany has won no less than twenty medals in various international and continental competitions.
At the tender age of seventeen, US born swimmer, Farida Osman, will represent her native Egypt in the 50m freestyle swim. Osman has already achieved a tremendous amount, having taken the Middle East by storm at the Pan Arab games in 2007. As the youngest member of the Egyptian team (twelve years old!) she became the youngest Arab athlete to win an event – the 50m. She even broke the record. Osman is an athlete that we’ll be seeing for at least the next two Olympics. You may even bump into her at the Gezira Sports Club swimming pools, where she frequents.