Preview: Egypt eyeing several Olympic medals despite weightlifting setback

Hatem Maher , Thursday 22 Jul 2021

Despite missing its famed weightlifters, Egypt still believes it can win 'five or six medals' at the Tokyo Games, which kick off on Friday

Taekwondo fighter Hedaya Malak snatches third bronze medal for Egypt
Taekwondo fighter Hedaya Malak snatches third bronze medal for Egypt

Egypt might be missing its top Olympic medal contenders following a ban handed out to the national weightlifting federation, but the country is still hopeful its athletes can make some gains in Tokyo.

Two of Egypt's three medalists at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, weightlifters Mohamed Ihab and Sara Samir, are missing after doping cases rocked the sport and prompted the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to swiftly act and punish the national federation.

But there is still room for optimism, with other athletes showing promising signs that they can go all the way.

"We can get five or six medals in Tokyo," Hesham Hatab, the president of Egypt's Olympic Committee, said in a television interview.

Among the athletes Hatab singled out is karate star Giana Farouk, who will be eager to grasp her chance with both hands after the sport was included in the Olympics for the first time.

Farouk, a hijab-wearing athlete, has two world gold medals to her name, having come out on top in the World Championship in 2014 and 2016. Her remarkable haul in an illustrious career includes 17 gold medals, four bronze and six silver in different regional and international competitions.

Hopes are also pinned on taekwondo practitioner Hedaya Malak, who won the bronze medal in Rio in the women's -57kg category, even though she will compete in a different class weight in Tokyo after moving up to -67kg in 2018.

Egypt's best ever swimmer Farida Osman, who won two bronze medals at the World Championship in 2017 and 2019, will also have a shot at her first Olympic accolade while wrestler Mohamed 'Kesho' Ibrahim will be keen to follow in the footsteps of the iconic Karam Gaber, who gave Egypt the gold medal in 2004 and the silver in 2012.  

Flag bearers

Malak and fencing athlete Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, who won a silver medal in 2012 in London but is now past his prime, were chosen as Egypt's flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

Both are the only athletes among the Egyptian delegation in Tokyo to have previously won Olympic medals.

"I was honored to have been chosen to represent my country and my fellow athletes, many of whom deserve the honor of carrying the flag even if they were not chosen this time, in the biggest sporting event in the world," Malak said on Facebook.

"I hope we can live up to the expectations of millions of Egyptians."

The optimism of Hatab, the Egyptian Olympic chief, goes well beyond individual sports. He believes the country can defy the odds in football and handball.

Egypt has never been a medal contender in either. They came closest to glory in 1964 in Tokyo when the football team finished fourth while the handball side came sixth in 1996 in Atlanta.

The U23 football side kicked off their Olympics campaign in convincing fashion on Thursday, holding European heavyweights Spain to a 0-0 draw after producing a resolute defensive display. Their tough group also includes Argentina and Australia.

Egypt's handball team, who face Portugal in their Olympics opener on Saturday, raised the bar with an impressive showing at the World Championship in January, having exited at the quarter-final stage after a narrow defeat to eventual champions Denmark in a thrilling contest.

"In football, we are not weaker than Spain or Argentina. We have a good team and coach who can do something good in Tokyo," Hatab said.

"We also have a strong handball team that finished seventh in the World Championship and had the capabilities to win the tournament. We are close to an Olympic medal, God willing."

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