Egypt's best-ever Olympian Karam Gaber in twilight of troubled career

Omar Zaazou, Sunday 31 Jul 2016

Ahram Online takes a look at the tumultuous career of Egypt's all-time greatest Olympian Karam as he misses out on the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games

Karam Gaber
Karam Gaber after clinching the gold medal in his triumphant campaign in Athens, 2004 (Photo: Ahram)

Egypt's all-time greatest Olympian Karam Gaber has missed out on the chance of becoming even greater after being denied the opportunity to feature at this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. 

The Greco-Roman wrestler, who won a Gold medal in Athens 2004 and another silver in London 2012, will miss the Games after being found guilty of evading doping drug tests, prompting the United World Wrestling to hit him with a two-year suspension – a ban due to end in August 2017.

The ban ends years of uncertainty for Gaber, who made history by clinching Egypt's first gold medal since 1948, having been embroiled in numerous disputes and controversies that blighted what otherwise looked a glittering career that now seems over.

Athens stunning feat

Gaber took the wrestling world by storm with a superb Olympic campaign in Athens, where he signaled his intent to clinch a medal early on.

Kicking off his campaign in stunning fashion, Gaber thrashed Poland's Marek Sitnik 6-0 in his opening game before going on to comfortably beat Georgios Koutsioumpas of Greece 11-6 en route to topping Group G.

But it was the latter stages where Gaber actually stunned the whole world with two breath-taking victories, needing only 1 minute, 9 seconds to toss World champion Mehmet Ozal three times during an 11-0 semi-final decision to avenge a loss in the 2002 world finals.

Similarly, Gaber did not take quite long to settle the final clash with Georgia's Ramaz Nozadze, needing a slightly longer 3 minute, 22 seconds this time to throw the then-junior world champion three times in a 12-2 refereeing decision to snatch the gold medal.

The way the Egyptian demolished his opponents en route to the prized medal was a ruthless demonstration of power, easily cruising to victory in the decisive latter stages as if he was competing in an amateur tournament.

"It has been my style for 10 years now. Everybody knows it is my style. Everybody has seen my style," Gaber said proudly following his emphatic gold medal back then.

Gaber's controversies 

Gaber then continued to hit the headlines following his marvelous victory in Athens, but for the wrong reasons.

He continually voiced his dismay over "negligence" from sports officials, citing the lack of "appreciation he deserved as an Olympic champion" as a reason for his frustration.

In what seemed to be a testament to Gaber's total lack of focus just a few months following his 2004 superb feat, the Greco-Roman wrestler went to feature in a mixed martial arts competition, K1, after accepting a lucrative offer reported to be in the region of $1.2 million.

The Alexandrian, however, was knocked out after 1:07 minutes, having opted to box instead of wrestling against another Japanese pro-wrestler who similarly switched to MMA in Kazuyuki Fujita, an approach that eventually proved unsuccessful.

Three years later, the Alexandria-born wrestler was handed a three-year prison term by an Egyptian court for assaulting a cab driver but the sentence was suspended.

The court verdict came just a few weeks after the Egyptian Wrestling Federation announced that Gaber would be summoned for questioning over what seemed to be his reluctance to feature in a Pan Arab tournament.  

A first-round exit from the Beijing Olympics was a natural outcome after such a tumultuous period, as he waved goodbye to the 2008 edition following a defeat by Albania’s Elis Guri.

Despite coming at the receiving end of critics' attack following the debacle in China, the burly wrestler seemed not yet ready to give up his complaints against the Egyptian federation, having continued his complaints over not getting his "meager rights" from the association.

Not really back on track

But Gaber looked to have got his act together afterwards, winning a gold medal in the 2011 Pan Arab Games before going on to write history with a silver medal in London a year later to become the first Egyptian to win both gold and silver in the Olympics.    

He lost to Russia's Alan Khugaev in the final showdown, a defeat that followed some impressive performances where he ousted favorite Damian Janikowski of Poland - who eventually won the bronze medal – in the semi-finals.    

But his frustration with his domestic association appeared to haunt him once again, this time demanding an EGP 5million for finishing second in London despite the governing body's regulations stipulating that an Olympic runner-up should only receive EGP 750,000.

Gaber then took it a bit far when he threatened to represent Qatar at the 2016 Olympics for not receiving the sum he demanded, before backtracking on his statements shortly afterwards.

Despite appealing his two-year suspension by the world governing body, the 36-year-old saw his attempt to nullify the sanction turned down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to deny him a chance to participate in this summer's Olympics.

Even so, the 2003 Greco-Roman world champion refused to bide his time without featuring in a major tournament, taking part in the 2016 US Sumo Open where he won the bronze medal.

Gaber's wrestling future remains unknown despite seemingly nearing its end. He will be 40 years by the time the next Olympic Games take place in Tokyo in 2020.

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