Preview: Gold hopes diminish but Egypt still aims big at Rio Olympics

Hatem Maher , Thursday 4 Aug 2016

Members of Egypt's Olympic team attend a welcome ceremony held at the athletes village of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 1, 2016 (AFP)

Two athletes who were firm contenders to give Egypt its first gold medal in 12 years will not be available but the country still aims big at the Olympic Games, eyeing several medals in Rio de Janeiro.

Javelin thrower Ihab Abdel-Rahman, winner of the silver medal at last year's World Championships in Beijing, was being showered with praise and brimming with confidence ahead of the Olympics when he learned that he would not be able to show up, dealing a crushing blow to Egyptian hopes.

Abdel-Rahman was provisionally suspended after failing a doping test, with some officials saying he had been the victim of dietary supplement.

Officials from the Egyptian Athletics Federation and the National Olympic Committee traded accusations over who was to blame for the fiasco but damage had already been done.

Egypt had just come to terms with the fact that the country's best-ever Olympian, Greco-Roman wrestler Karam Gaber, would also not be available for selection after being hit with a two-year suspension last year for evading doping tests.

Gaber, Egypt's most decorated athlete, won the country's last gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He also clinched the silver medal at the 2012 edition in London.

However, officials looked soundly optimistic ahead of the Rio Games, pinning their hopes on other up-and-coming athletes.

"We spent around EGP130 million to make our athletes up to the challenge of winning medals, not just to produce fine performances," Egypt's Sports Minister Khaled Abdel-Aziz told a news conference.

"Of course not of all of them will win medals but I'm sure some will. We will make a very good impact at the Olympics."

Sports with no long history in Egypt

Some of those who are tipped to compete for an Olympic medal, which barring an upset unlikely to be gold, emerged from sports not particularly known for being that competitive in Egypt.

The country does not have a long history in shooting but Azmy Mehelba raised eyebrows when he scored 125 of 125 in the men’s skeet shooting competition at the Italian Green Cup late in May; a world record achieved only six times before.

Egypt's Olympic delegation also boats the country's greatest-ever swimmers.

Ahmed Akram made the most remarkable achievement in Egypt's history when he finished fourth in the 1500m event at the 2015 FINA World Championships while female swimmer Farida Osman finished fifth in the 50m butterfly after both had qualified for the final for the first time.

"Seeing all the success that Egyptian swimming has been able to achieve gives me motivation to do something more special. I will be competing in the 1500m freestyle in Brazil, and my main target is to try to make the finals of that race," Akram told Ahram Online.

Pentathlete Amro El Geziry, whose brother Omar is also taking part in Rio Games, is under the spotlight, having won the silver medal at the World Championships in Warsaw two years ago. Fencer Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, silver medalist at the London Games, is also in contention but he suffered a scare after sustaining an ankle injury on Wednesday.

Boxers stole the limelight 12 years ago when they won three Olympic medals in Athens (one silver and two bronze) out of Egypt's total of five medals and Hossam Bakr is burdened with restoring glory days.

The middleweight boxer, 31, won the bronze medal at the World Championship in Qatar last year and said he would have a shot at another medal in Rio although he admitted his task might be difficult if he is handed a tough draw.

Other promising athletes include taekwondo star Hedaya Malak, winner of the 57-kg gold medal at the 2015 World Grand Prix in Mexico, and weightlifter Tarek Yehia, who is likely to be granted the silver medal of the 2012 London Games after a Russian medalist was suspended for doping.

Egypt's delegation, which includes 122 athletes, is the largest in history.

"21 percent of the Egyptian participants reached the Olympic Games via World Championships, and this is a good sign that we can win medals," said National Olympic Committee member Mamdouh El-Sheshtawi.

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