Egypt’s equestrian star Sameh El-Dahan, who made headlines by beating 10 world-class riders to snatch gold medal at the 2018 Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) Grand Prix of Paris last month, is over the moon to have made history but his ambition never wanes.
El-Dahan took top spot on the podium after emerging the winner in an 11-rider jump, receiving a standing ovation after beating some illustrious opponents on the spectacular stage of the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower.
"I always enter any competition with high expectations. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in sports but I always believe that I can win," he told Ahram Online.
In the final jump-off at the LGCT Grand prix, El-Dahan, riding his mare Suma’s Zorro, triumphed after crossing the line in 36.32 seconds, followed by Irishman Bertram Allen in 36.38 and world number one Harrie Smolders of the Netherlands in 37.06.
"I am so grateful for being able to win. I am so fortunate to have a very good supportive team; above all the fantastic mare Suma’s Zorro. We, as a team, work too hard and pay special attention to the details. Dedication is second to none," he added.
El-Dahan rode Suma's Zorro the whole championship. In describing his mare, he said: "It is a liver chestnut. Her age is 14 years and she is very stubborn and feisty; she has her own character. I and she have a very good partnership."
How did he make it?
El-Dahan faced a difficult task in Paris but he was prepared for a tough qualifying contest featuring the world's greatest riders.
"The final round Jump-off came after a very demanding qualifying round where only 35 riders and horses out of 65 champions qualified for the prestigious Grand Prix," he said.
"I and my horse Zorro were placed 6th after jumping a clear round. An hour later, in the first round of the Grand Prix, I jumped off 1 metre height of obstacles. The course included 60 fences, 13 obstacles and 16 efforts. I finished the course and it was a very demanding one with so many tricky lines laid throughout.
"It was a fantastic feeling when I was airborne over the final jump. I knew we were clear again and that we qualified for the final jump-off."
El-Dahan said he and his partner and manager, Joanne Sloan Allen, originally thought it was impossible for any rider to beat Allen's finishing time in the final round, even Dutchman Smolders.
But he eventually achieved the unthinkable, beating Allen by half a second to win gold and qualify for the inaugural LGCT Super Grand Prix, which will take place in Prague in December.
"I and my fantastic horse ran so fast and we were turning as tight as we can to the jumps," El-Dahan said.
"In that last jump, I looked at the screen and saw the time! That moment, I can’t express my feelings after knowing that we broke Allen's time and won the Paris Grand Prix.
"I was very proud because I knew how much it meant to my whole team, my family, my stables Sycamore horse farm, my sponsors, and everybody back home in Egypt who follow show jumping or sports in general."
El-Dahan, who is 70th in the world rankings, also said he hopes his Paris triumph will see him surge up the rankings ladder.
With El-Dahan steadily stamping his mark, he already has his eyes set on achieving bigger targets.
The 33-year-old will take part in the World Equestrian Games in the US state of North Carolina from 11-23 September and he looks forward to breaking into the top ten in the world rankings. He is also determined to finish in the top three of the Super Grand Prix in Prague in December.
El-Dahan, who has been living in Northern Ireland for seven years, said he is on good terms with the Egyptian Equestrian Federation, which he said was trying to coordinate with the government to fund his trip to the US to feature in the World Equestrian Games.
"We will represent Egypt in the second most prestigious tournament after the Olympics," he said.
With Egypt having never won an Olympic medal in equestrianism, El-Dahan dreams of ending that run in show jumping.
"I wrote that in my dream book. I always believe that dreams can be achieved as long as you keep believing, have faith and never give up your goals," he added.
Speaking about Egypt's chances of achieving an Olympic medal in Tokyo 2020, El-Dahan said: "This time, our aim is to qualify the Egyptian team for Tokyo after so many years of individual presentation. We can do so with good planning and management."
"The Egyptian team can then pull off impressive results and come back with Olympic medals.
"I love my country and I'm extremely proud of my nationality. I will forever cherish the moment I triumphed in Paris before a packed crowd and with the Egyptian anthem being played," he added.