Egypt’s best weightlifter ever, Mohamed Ihab, said he has gone back on his decision to retire after being persuaded to change his mind by Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi. At a press conference held at the ministry, Sobhi said he will provide Ihab with all what is needed to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I want to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as it is my life’s dream and I have trained very well for this,” Ihab, 29, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I have only two competitions left to qualify for Tokyo and I am sure they will be easy ones. I want to participate under Egypt’s flag but if I can’t, what should I do? I asked to join under the Olympic flag but this was rejected by Egyptian officials. I hope I will be able to enter the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and I promise all that I will win a medal and repeat the scenario of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.” Ihab captured the bronze medal in Rio.
At the press conference Sobhi said he had sent an inspection committee to the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation (EWF) to investigate the ban that was placed on Egypt for drug violations. Sobhi said he had assigned Nasser Azzam, a lawyer who specialises in issues related to the Court of Sports Arbitration (CAS) to appeal the decision to suspend weightlifting in Egypt for two years.
“We will stand by Mohamed Ihab until the end and I promise to do my best to resolve the problem,” Sobhi said. “Even if we fail I promise to make Ihab the technical manager of the Egyptian national youth team. The training program will continue under the supervision of both the ministry and the Egyptian Olympic Committee.”
Nasser helped lift a ban on Paralympian Fatma Omar, a gold winner in several tournaments, following her doping case, and did the same with her teammate Nadia Fekri, also a world champion and Paralympics medal winner.
“It is not an easy case of course but we have good evidence that from 400 samples, we had only 14 positive samples, to clean the history of Egypt in the game. All of this will help us in our mission,” Nasser told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Last week, Ihab announced his retirement after he said he lost hope of competing in the 2020 Tokyo Games following Egypt’s recent suspension.
“After a meeting with Egypt’s youth and sports minister and the Olympic Committee headed by Hisham Hattab, we agreed to continue preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games until the legal procedures to lift the suspension on Egypt are completed,” Ihab told the press conference.
“I decided to retire after Egypt’s recent ban. My target was to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but it is difficult to lift the ban,” Ihab added.
“There is no reason to continue my career. It isn’t our fault. If a miracle happens and the ban is lifted, I will return immediately. If not I will concentrate on completing my Masters and I will begin my coaching career.”
The drug issue goes back to last week’s decision by the Independent Member Federations Sanctions Panel (IMFSP) which suspended the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation for two years.
The federation was officially informed of the decision by the IMFSP on 12 September and had 21 days from this date to appeal to CAS.
The IMFSP has the sole authority to impose sanctions on member federations, in line with Article 12 of the IWF anti-doping policy which was approved by the IWF Executive Board in order to ensure greater independence and transparency.
Early in September, Egypt’s Olympics Committee revealed that the country had been banned from participating in all activities of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for two years over an old doping case.
The ban relates to an incident in 2016 when seven Egyptian players failed doping tests during the 2016 Youth African Championships held in Cairo.
Meanwhile, Ihab has proven himself the best weightlifter in Egypt’s history after winning a gold, bronze and silver medal and finishing second at the World Weightlifting Championships in Ashgabat in November. He clinched gold in the men’s 81kg category, setting a new world record in the snatch after lifting 173kg, 3kg more than the world record. He also won a bronze after lifting 200kg in the clean and jerk and a silver after lifting a total of 373kg in the 81kg category.
Ihab has become Egypt’s most prolific weightlifter with four world gold medals, ahead of Nahla Ramadan and Khedr Al-Touni who won three world medals each.
His most memorable achievement was the Olympic bronze medal which he collected in 2016 after lifting 165kg in the snatch and 196kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 361kg in the 77kg weight category. Ihab came in third after Kazakhstan’s Nijat Rahimov and Chinese Lu Xiaojun.
Ihab started his weightlifting career when he was only eight in Fayoum, south of Cairo. He joined the national weightlifting team in 2007.
When he was 15, he competed in the 56kg weight category.
“I broke the Egyptian record after lifting 338kg in the 56kg weight class, which allowed me to participate in the IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championship in Prague, in the Czech Republic in 2007,” he said. Ihab finished fifth with a total lift of 238kg.
All in all, Ihab has won 35 gold, eight silver and five bronze medals in his career, including 11 medals at the IWF senior world championships, an Olympic bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games and nine gold medals in African championships.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.