Egypt's taekwondo player Hedaya Malak is bouncing back after enduring some tough times since winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
The 25-year old female athlete failed to live to up expectations following her achievement at the Rio Games, finishing 17th in the 2017 World Championships.
However, she has recently had some taste of silverware, winning a bronze medal at the 2018 Mediterranean Games.
She now believes she was finally able to overcome a handful of problems.
"My preparation plans were a bit delayed as I had to finish my graduation last year and now I am focused as there are so many international competitions coming up," she told Ahram Online.
Graduation was not the only hurdle Malak had to go through as her year was marred by some twists that could have a bearing on her career.
She has been struggling with injury for around six months after sustaining an ankle injury in the beginning of the year while playing in a tournament in Alexandria, Egypt.
But Malak still managed to grab the silver medal at the African Championships in Moroccan city Agadir.
"I won the championship while almost playing with one leg because I was so worried about using my injured leg," she said. She also had to go through a rehabilitation program for almost two months before resuming training.
New coach, new weight
Three years after being coached by Spaniards Rosendo Alonso and Gulca Kusca, who led her to glory in Rio, Malak turned to another trainer early this year. Serbian Jovic Dragan is now her new mentor.
"Of course, their departure affected me but this is life. I have to adapt to my new coach and his methods, it is always about the player's mentality. Dragan is one of the best coaches in the world," she commented.
Malak took part in a training camp with the Serbian team in June right after she recovered from her injury. It helped her improve her game after an earlier struggle.
"This (the Mediterranean games) was the first championship I competed in immediately after my training camp in Serbia. Serbia has one of the best girls’ teams in the world. It was a privilege for me to be in Serbia practicing with some of Europe's best Taekwondo athletes," she explained.
Malak also made a major switch in her game, moving up to the -67kg in 2018 after playing in the -57kg category for the seven past years.
"This was accompanied with lot of effort and even suffering. Naturally, my weight had to increase. I will keep playing in the -67kg category to move up the ranking in this weight," she said.
Malak, 1.74m tall, believes the main difference lies in physique not techniques: "The players are taller and stronger."
She says her main rivals will be the ones who were her competitors in Rio, with three of the four medalists who were competing against her in the -57kg switching to the -67kg category too.
Malak said that her main target is to get on the podium in Tokyo 2020, although she is aware there is a long way to go.
"Of course, I am aspiring to win an Olympic medal in Tokyo2020. I have the 2019 World Championships coming up next (24-28 April in Germany) and I hope to do better than the 2017 World Championships. I am working hard and doing the best I can. I wish luck for myself and all the Egyptian athletes," she added.
Hard, expensive road to Tokyo
Malak said that qualifying for the Olympics has become more difficult and too expensive.
"Any athlete needs to participate in championships all year long to achieve certain points to improve his or her world ranking and this qualify for the Olympics. This is what I am working on," she said.
Malak signed a new sponsorship deal this year to back her campaign for a third participation in the Olympics after 2012 and 2016, though it seems far from enough.
"As much as I feel gratitude for my sponsor, which is one of the biggest banks in Egypt and maybe in the region, it is really a heavy burden on both them and me to pay for the participation in so many international events," she added.
“However, I am sure that there is close cooperation between my marketing agent and my sponsor. Maybe I will have more sponsors in the future. Things will be great."
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