Fatma Omar, the Egyptian powerlifter who collected six medals in six Paralympic Games, has been chosen Best Paralympic Athlete.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan congratulated Omar as one of the winners of the seventh edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Women’s Sports Award, which took place at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. The accolade celebrates women’s sports in the Arab world.
The award honours creative and accomplished women in Arab sports, and motivates people to excel to reach the podium. It also strengthens the women’s empowerment strategy supported by the state.
Omar was awarded in recognition of her achievements as a Paralympic weightlifting champion and the only woman in the world to have won six Olympic medals in a row. She also earned eight gold medals in the recent African Open Championships.
Omar has four gold medals, which itself is a joint record alongside Chinese powerlifters Fu Taoying and Zhang Haidong, who have both retired.
Omar claimed silver at Rio 2016.
Omar, born 17 November 1973, competes in the -56kg category. She is a dominant power in her sport, winning gold in her event in four Summer Paralympics, and another four gold medals at the IPC Powerlifting World Championships. At the age of one, she contracted polio, which resulted in spinal damage.
Omar first represented her country at the 1998 IPC Powerlifting World Championships held in Dubai. She entered one of the lowest weight categories, the 44kg, winning the gold medal. Following this success, she was selected to compete at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.
At the Sydney Games she competed in the 44kg weight class, taking the gold medal with a lift of 109kg, beating Lucy Ogechukwu Ejike of Nigeria. Four years later at the Athens Games, Omar moved up to the 56kg class. She outclassed the field with a lift of 127.5kg.
At the 2008 Beijing Games, Omar again competed at the 56 kg level. She broke the world record with a winning lift of 141.5kg.
After her win in Beijing, Nigeria’s Ejike stated that she would move up to Omar’s weight division to challenge for the 56kg weight class. This led to a showdown at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London with her rival from Athens. Ejike took the lead in the first round with a lift of 135kg but she was unable to better this attempt, while Omar improved her record from Beijing with a final lift of 142kg, taking her fourth gold medal.
Four years later, Ejike and Omar met for the third time at a Paralympic Games, when they both entered the 2016 Games in Rio. After London, the International Paralympic Committee changed the powerlifting weight categories for both men and women, and the two competed in the women’s 61kg division, but Omar’s name was engraved as the title holder of the Olympic and Paralympic records with 143.5kg in the 56kg weight category. The previous year Mexico’s Amalia Perez had set a world record in the 61kg with a lift of 133kg, which Ejike surpassed with her first lift of 135kg.
Omar had failed at 133kg on her first lift but was successful at the same weight on her second attempt. Ejike improved her lead with her second lift, setting her second world record of the day with a weight of 138kg. Omar responded with a final lift of 140 kg, putting Ejike into the silver medal place.
Ejike lifted 142kg to leave Omar with the silver medal for the first time in her Paralympic career. Omar also collected the silver medal in the Tokyo Paralympics 2021. Again, her great Nigerian rival stood in the way of a gold.
Omar won the bronze medal in her event at the 2021 World Para Powerlifting Championships held in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Omar avenged her losses to Ejike in the African Championship held in Cairo last year when she won the gold medal.
“I had two competitors with me in the final level, Ayatallah Ayman, the Egyptian Para swimmer and the UAE’s Nora Al Katbi,” Omar recounted to Al-Ahram Weekly. “I was sure that I would not win because last year I was the most qualified but I did not win, so when they announced me as the winner, I could not hold back my tears.
“I was very happy that at last I won the title I felt I deserved long ago. I also dedicated the gift to the Palestinians in their war [with Israel].
“I am very happy and very proud of myself and my country. I have never imagined playing except under the Egyptian flag as I love my country so much.”
Omar must undergo four surgeries in her shoulder and wrists and is not sure if she will be able to play in the 2024 Paris Paralympics. “In order to qualify for Paris 2024, I have to participate in two events out of the three qualifying tournaments. One in March in Egypt and the second in June in Manchester. I hope to be able to recover quickly after the surgeries and catch up with the Paris 2024 Paralympics as I think this will be my last station.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly