Egypt eyes another triumph as Abouelkassem leads fencing team at Rio Games

Egypt's Olympic hopefuls include Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, who struggled through injury to return to the top

Eslam Omar , Monday 1 Aug 2016
Alaaeldin Abouelkassem
Egypt's Alaaeldin Abouelkassem celebrates defeating Italy's Andrea Cassara in 2012 London Olympics foil individual's quarterfinals (Reuters)

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Before the 2012 London Olympics, Egyptians hadn't really noticed fencing competitions. But Alaaeldin Abouelkassem's appearance in 2016 Olympic Games is expected to bring attention to the sport rarely played or watched in the North African Arab country.

The 25-year-old is the first ever Olympic fencing medalist from Egypt, Africa and the Arab world. He wrote his name in the history books winning the silver in the men’s individual foil at the London Games after fighting bravely in a narrow 15-13 defeat by China’s Sheng Leii who won gold.

Suffering from a severe shoulder injury, the Setif-born from an Algerian mother and an Egyptian father has a point to prove in the Rio Games in which he is seeded eighth, and ninth globally.

His injury deprived him of winning any major international title after the 2012 Olympics, but the left-handed foil fencer Aboulkassem struggled and proved his worth in qualifying to the 2016 Games.

"Of course it takes time to return fully fit from an injury. This is a stress, for sure. But thanks to God and all the people who supported me, I was able to qualify again," Abouelkassem stated on television during his last day of the closed camp he joined ahead of flying to Brazil.

Amid a tough rehabilitation programme, he was able to win silver in the 2016 Fencing Grand Prix Foil mid-March as British Richard Kruse clinched gold.

"We have made a very successful training programme. The last outside camp was in France and it was very good," Abouelkassem revealed.

Led by Abouelkassem, the Egyptian Fencing Federation (EFA) have sent eight fencers guided by four technical staff members to Rio de Janeiro Saturday, days before the anticipated and most prestigious sports event kicks off on 5 August. Egypt will compete in individual foil, epee and sabre. Men's foil is the only team discipline the country will participate in.

The foil's team is promising this tournament after Abouelkassem inspired them to win the 2015 African Brazzaville team's foil gold. He also won the individual's gold of the same tournament.

Previously, the fencer was reportedly named as the Egyptian flag holder at Rio as he himself celebrated the news. But the Egyptian Olympic Committee named Ahmed El-Ahmar of the handball team as the flag holder.

"We are all champions and we are representing Egypt. I felt happy at first when I heard that I was carrying my country's flag but I am only focused on the competition now. I want to return with a medal," Abouelkassem told an Egyptian newspaper Saturday.

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