Egyptian Greco-Roman wrestler Karam Gaber will be looking to restore his glory and pride when he participates in the 2012 London Olympic, having endured a torrid time since his remarkable achievement in Athens eight years ago.
Born in 1979 in the coastal city of Alexandria, Gaber, the fourth of seven children in his big family, started his Greco-Roman wrestling career at the age of seven but hardly imagined that he would turn out to be one of Egypt’s all-time sporting icons.
In Athens 2004, Gaber remarkably clinched Egypt’s first gold medal since the 1948 Olympic Games. He needed only one minute and nine seconds to toss former world champion Mehmet Ozal from Turkey three times during an 11-0 semi-final decision, and three minutes and 22 seconds to throw world champion Ramaz Nozadze from Georgia three times in a 12-2 decision to claim the Olympic gold.
"I'm glad I was the one who made 70 million Egyptians smile again after all these years. It has been a long time for all of us. I know the people were disappointed in this Games in particular, especially in the first week, but my boxing colleagues made up for it. And I'm glad my gold medal had made them even happier," Gaber said back in 2004 after becoming Egypt’s seventh gold medalist after El-Sayed Noseir and Ibrahim Mustafa (Amsterdam 1928); Khedr El-Touni, Anwar Misbah (Berlin 1936); Ibrahim Shams and Mahmoud Fayyad (London 1948).
At only 25, the Egyptian phenomenon became a legend in the world of wrestling and was even likened to three-time Olympic gold medalist Alexander Kareline.
Sports editor and former wrestler Eddie Goldman heaped praise on him, naming him the wrestler of the year. "The style of Karam Gaber is very easy to understand: He will lift you and throw you, like you are a toy or a stuffed animal. He is so strong, quick, skillful, agile, and confident that he makes tossing around champion and world-class wrestlers look easy. No one since Kareline, who retired after the 2000 Olympics, has stood out as so dominant in any style of wrestling," he said in a review on Gaber in December 2004.
He then accepted a lucrative offer from the mixed martial arts competition, K1, that reportedly offered him a $1.2 million. He also claimed to have rejected offers from the WWE to “keep competing in sports to win more medals”.
However, Gaber began to suffer a dip in form afterwards that culminated in a hugely disappointing outcome in the 2008 Beijing Games. He was stunned by Albania’s Elis Guri in the first round, prompting critics to launch a scathing attack on him.
They accused him of suffering success hangover after he rose to fame in a country that usually does not regard non-football sports highly.
Gaber was also involved in several altercations with Egyptian wrestling federation and decided to quit the game in order to focus on the K1 fights.
However, the nostalgic wrestler reversed his decision at the beginning of 2011 and resumed practice in order to qualify for the London Games. He won the gold medal in the African Championship to secure his London ticket before storming past all his opponents in the Arab Games held in Qatar in December 2011, claiming the gold.
The 33-year-old seems on his way back to the top after losing weight to compete in the 84kg category instead of 96kg.
“I Love challenges and I am going for a medal in London. Eight years after my performance in Athens I am surely not the same. I still have the gift and skill but I am not as strong as I was in my twenties. And that’s why I have been working a lot on my physical lately especially that I have been out of tournaments for almost three years.
I also decided to switch categories because in 84kg you need more skill, talent and experience and less power than the 96kg category,” Gaber said.
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