INTERVIEW: Egyptian table tennis Omar Assar eyes Olympic Podium at Paris 2024

Ghada Abdel-Kader , Wednesday 1 Sep 2021

The 30-year-old athlete finished fifth in the men’s singles event in Tokyo 2020

Omar Assar
Egypt s Omar Assar (R) competes against Taiwan s Chuang Chih-yuan during his men s singles round of 16 table tennis match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 27, 2021 (AFP)

Omar Assar made history. He is the first Egyptian table tennis player to reach the quarter finals in the Olympic Games, going high over the bar of the Round of 32, achieving an Egyptian record.

The 30-year-old athlete finished fifth in the men’s singles event in Tokyo 2020 after losing 4-1 to the 2016 Olympic gold medalist and 2019 World Champion Ma Long of China in the quarterfinals.

“I am so happy with the result. This is a big motivation for table tennis players and it gives hope to new Arab athletes to step up on the podium in the future,” Assar told Ahram Online.

“It means a lot to me to qualify for the Olympic Games quarterfinals. It is a big achievement,” he added.

Although he wasn't favoured by the draw, Assar had a remarkable run that exceeded expectations.

Assar had a taste for revenge, beating Lei Kou of Ukraine in the preliminary round. “I lost to Lei in Rio 2016 (in the Round of 64). This time, I managed to beat him,” he said.

In the Round of 32, he delivered one of his finest performances, beating the 2019 World Championship finalist and current world number 9 Mattias Falck of Sweden 4-3.

“It was the most difficult match throughout the competition,” he said.

Next, Assar beat Yuan Chih Chuang of Chinese Taipei in another 4-3 thriller to reach the quarterfinals.

“The draw was very difficult. The game (against Chuang) was tough and it was the first time for me to beat him,” he added.

Despite having participated in three Olympics and reaching new highs in Tokyo, Assar thinks he still has some unfinished business.

“My big dream is Paris 2024 Olympic Games. First, I have to secure the qualification then win an Olympic medal in Paris,” he stated.

A champion in the making

Born in the city of Desouk in Kafr El-Sheikh governorate, Assar started practising at the age of three. He was born into a family that believed in sports, especially table tennis. His father was a table tennis coach at Desouk Sporting Club.

His younger brother Khaled, now 28, who is also an African champion and an Olympic contender, was training with him. Their father decided to relocate the family to Cairo to help his kids improve and join Egyptian giants Ahly at the age of 13.

Omar graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration in 2013 from the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport.

In the same year he kickstarted his European career, joining Falkenberg Club in Sweden. Then he moved to Denmark and France, and recently he joined Borussia Düsseldorf Club in Germany.

Assar evolved throughout his European journey and reached the 16th place in the world ranking in 2018 and 2019.

“It is the best ranking for an African or Arab athlete in table tennis until now,” he commented.

According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World rankings, August 2021, Assar is ranked 36th.

He admits he is struggling financially as he cannot afford to have a full-time coaching staff.

“When I was in Germany, I didn’t have a complete coaching staff, including a trainer, physiotherapist, nutritionist, and analyst. I had to adjust and make a lot of changes according to the budget, type of championship, and coaching availability. I have some partners, but I am looking for more sponsors to be able to cover all my expenses until Paris 2024,” he said.

Assar follows a strict routine. He has two sessions of technical trainings for four to six hours daily in addition to physical exercises.

Assar believes table tennis is underrated in Egypt and that’s why it lacks the needed focus to develop. “In general, we lack the vision to promote sports. It needs a full dedication and more work on the advertising and marketing aspects,” he said.

He idolises former Chinese table tennis player Wang Liqin who had held the world's top spot for 25 consecutive months, from September 2000 to September 2002.

“Executive Vice President of World Table Tennis Dr Alaa Meshref is my role model in life and in sport. And, generally speaking, my model in sport is Mahmoud El-Khattib, the president of Ahly, ” he concluded.

Career highlights

Assar participated in three Olympic Games: London 2012, Rio De Janiero 2016 and Tokyo 2020. He was eliminated twice from the Round of 64 but Tokyo was his third time charm.

He won the gold in the 2013 Mediterranean Games and the player of the season award in the French League in 2015 and 2017.

Assar was part of Borussia Düsseldorf Club team when he reached the men’s European Champions League semifinals in season 2018.

He claimed a gold medal at Düsseldorf Masters 2021 and became the first African and Arab table tennis player to win the title.

He won a gold medal at the 2009 China International Junior Championships. He won a silver medal in the men’s singles title twice at the ITTF World Junior Circuit Finals in Sweden 2008 and Tokyo 2009.

He won the best African junior athlete award in 2010.      

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