2023 Yearender: Going solo

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

It was an impressive year for Egyptian athletes, especially in individual sports, reports Inas Mazhar

Ahly

 

This year, Egyptian sports had its fair share of achievements, with the government opening the door wide to provide financial and moral support for both team and individual sports.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi recommended that winning athletes in individual sports be treated on an equal footing with those of football, the world’s most popular sport.

Since then, Egyptian athletes have seen a relative improvement in terms of prize money, media attention, and being honoured by the state, mainly with presidential sports merits.

Many of Egypt’s individual athletes this year qualified to either world championships or to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

 

ATHLETICS: The Egyptian delegation ranked second in the overall standings in the Arab Championships for male and female juniors, held in Amman, after winning 20 medals. Karim Mahmoud, on the national team, won the silver medal in the 100-metre sprint T44, in the World Championships Athletics Championships held in Paris. At the Arab Games, Egypt won five gold medals, as the delegation came third.

 

FOOTBALL: Egypt qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations which starts in January in Cote d’Ivoire. Egypt have won the trophy a record seven times. The team, nicknamed the Pharaohs, enter the 2024 Africa Cup looking for a coronation that was within reach in 2017 when they lost the first to Cameroon in Gabon and the second to Senegal in Cameroon in 2022.

In the group in Cote d’Ivoire there are no experienced or challenging teams except Ghana. Egypt open their campaign against Mozambique on 14 January, likely an easy start given the difference in experience and history between the two teams.

The second game against Ghana on 18 January will be much tougher. Cape Verde on 22 January seems within reach due to many technical and historical differences.

If the Pharaohs make it to the quarter-finals, bigger challenges for the Egyptians under Portuguese coach Rui Vitoria lie ahead.

The national team also won their first two games in African qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup, hoping to make only their fourth appearance in the marquee event.

Egypt won third place at the African single-leg football championship in Ghana. The event was for players who have had one leg amputated.

In club news, powerhouse club Ahly won the African Champions League, the most prestigious continental club football tournament, beating Wydad of Morocco 3-2 on aggregate in June for a record-extending 11th crown.

At the start of the year, Ahly were humbled by European champions Real Madrid 4-1 in the Club World Cup in Rabat in February in the semi-final, ultimately finishing in fourth place. However, Ahly were chosen the best club in Africa in the CAF awards held in December.

 

GYMNASTICS: Egyptian gymnasts claimed three medals in the Romanian Championships, two gold and a silver. In the African Championships, Omar Al-Arabi, an artistic gymnastics team player, took gold in the individual competition at the 17th African Championships held in South Africa in May.

HANDBALL: An Egyptian powerhouse, Ahly’s handball team took the 44th Men’s African Club Championship following a tough 10-day competition held in Brazzaville, Congo, that was packed with superb playing and which concluded on 7 October. Ahly sealed the title for the sixth time after defeating DR Congo’s Jeunesse Sportive de Kinshasa (JSK).

This sixth Ahly title ranks third in the hall of fame behind record holders Zamalek, also of Egypt, who won 12 titles, and Mouloudia Alger of Algeria who have 11 crowns. This was also Ahly’s first title in the competition since 2017. The title also returns to Egypt for the first time since 2019 when Zamalek SC had previously sealed it. Zamalek failed to make it to the starting gate this year.

 

KARATE: The team collected 37 medals at the African Championship in Morocco, winning 14 gold, 15 silver, and eight bronze. In the disabled competition, Egypt clinched 16 medals while the World League Series saw Egypt winning three medals. In the Mediterranean Championship in Tunisia, 10 medals were garnered — three gold, two silver, and five bronze. The national team won seven medals in the Serie A Championship, which was held in Cyprus, with two gold, two silver, and three bronze.

 

MODERN PENTATHLON: Egypt won the gold medal in the mixed relay at the World Junior Championship for the Modern Pentathlon, topping the medals table with three gold medals. Salma Abdel-Maqsoud won the women’s gold in the World Championship in Poland. Egypt also hosted two World Pentathlon Cup and Championship, with the Egyptians going to the podium and receiving spots at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

PARALYMPICS: Fatma Omar, the Egyptian powerlifter who collected six medals in six Paralympic Games, was 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.

 

SHOOTING: It was an incredible season for the victorious shooting brothers, Abdel-Aziz and Azmi Mehelba of Egypt, who wrapped up the season with glory by each winning a medal in the final of the one-week Shooting World Cup which took place from 18 to 26 November in Qatar. The historic floodlit trap competition at the Doha World Cup Final saw Abdel-Aziz Mehelba add gold to his brother’s skeet silver in a monumental shoot-out.

SPECIAL OLYMPICS: Egypt bagged a whopping 49 medals at the World Games in Berlin. In the 17-25 June occasion, the world’s largest inclusive sporting event for differently-abled athletes, the Egyptians claimed 17 gold, 13 silver and 19 bronze medals.

The breakdown of Egypt’s overall medal haul: three gold medals in bowling three gold; two silver and eight bronze in gymnastics; one gold, a silver and a bronze in swimming; a silver medal for the equestrian team; and one gold, two silvers and one bronze in equestrian. Weightlifting took three gold, three silvers and one bronze medal, while athletics claimed two gold and two bronze. Judo clinched two bronze medals whereas table tennis collected a silver medal. Tennis grabbed two gold, a silver and two bronze, while badminton snared two gold and a bronze medal.

Unlike the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the Special Olympics do not provide a medal table since there is supposed to be no competitive pressure among athletes.

Instead, the top three finishers of each competition were presented gold, silver and bronze medals, while the fourth to eighth place finishers received ribbons with their placement printed on them.

A total of 4,002 medals and 6,670 placement ribbons were presented at 1,334 award ceremonies.

More than 6,000 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners (those athletes without intellectual disability) from 176 countries competed in 26 sports guided by 3,000 coaches. There were 18,000 volunteers on duty during the nine days of the competition.

 

SQUASH: Egyptian players had a near monopoly on world championships. They ended the year taking home the 2023 Best Player Awards presented by the Professional Squash Association with Nour Al-Sherbini and Nouran Gohar sharing the Best Female Player award, Ali Farag the Best Player, and Amina Orfi, the Best Emerging Player.

Egypt’s Hania Al-Hammami was also crowned champion of the TTI Milwaukee Hong Kong Squash Open 2023.

Al-Hammami beat Amanda Sobhi of the US in the final to claim the title at the Platinum-level event. The world No 2 Egyptian retained her crown just 10 minutes into the final, in circumstances she wouldn’t have wanted after Sobhi was forced to retire in the first game due to injury. The score was locked at 5-5 when the US No 1 went down and was unable to continue.

The victory gave Al-Hammami her 13th title of her career and her second Platinum title of the season, having lifted the Terminals Qatar Classic back in September.

In October, the International Olympic Committee announced that squash will make its first official appearance in an Olympics when the tournament is held in Los Angeles in 2028. If Egypt’s players, who have been world champions for over a decade in every category, can maintain that form for the next four years, they stand to win a bevy of Olympic medals.

 

TAEKWONDO: Seif Issa won a bronze medal in the World Championship and Shahad Sami won silver.

 

TENNIS: Mayar Sherif was crowned champion of the Makraska Open Tennis Championship in Croatia after a marathon final that extended for more than three hours, over Italian Jasmine Paolini, ranked 52nd in the world, 2-1. Sherif, ranked 31 in the world, bagged prize money worth $115,000. Sandra Samir won the International Future Championship title after defeating her Romanian opponent 2-1 (6-4. 4-6. 6-1).

 

VOLLEYBALL: On to more successes, Egypt’s volleyball team booked a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games due to their advanced position in the world ranking. The Pharaohs lost 3-2 to Finland in the qualifiers early. Nonetheless, they remained optimistic about reaching the tournament’s finals, relying on their world ranking qualification. Egypt are placed 18th in the world ranking, putting them above Tunisia who lost 3-0 to Turkey in the qualifiers.

The top two teams from each group in the qualifiers are directly awarded spots in Paris, with the five highest-ranked eligible teams joining them through the world ranking qualification. The volleyball tournament at the Olympics is scheduled to run from 27 July to 11 August, featuring the participation of 24 teams.

Egypt’s Under-17 female team won the African Nations Volleyball Championship, beating hosts Nigeria 3-1 in the final held in Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja, Nigeria. Egypt defeated Nigeria 3-1 (25-21, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21) to lift the 2023 trophy. Not only did Egypt clinch the cup but also qualified for the 2024 World Championship.

 

Weightlifting the year’s end brought unexpected joy to the 2016 Rio Olympic weightlifter Mohamed Ihab, who recently was awarded the silver medal in the 77kg weight category instead of the bronze after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) stripped Kazakhstan’s Nijat Rahimov of the gold medal following a doping violation. Ihab is retired.

 

HOSTS: Egypt hosted many African, Arab, and international championships, during which it was confirmed that Egypt was capable of hosting spectacular international competitions at the highest level.

Hosting duties were plenty: The basketball World Cup final stage qualifiers at Al-Ittihad Hall in Alexandria; the Karate Premier League International Championship at Cairo Stadium; the World Cup Modern Pentathlon Championship in Cairo; the Fencing World Cup for men’s and women’s epee and teams at “The Club” in the New Administrative Capital; and the African Fencing Championship for men and women, in various weapons, individually and in teams, held in Dr Hassan Mustafa Hall in Giza.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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