A Year in Sports: Egypt's athletes steal limelight as football takes backseat

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 30 Dec 2015

Swimmers, squash players and javelin throwers outshone footballers in 2015, while the first female in Egypt's history reached a world number one ranking

Ihab Abdel-Rahman
Ihab Abdel-Rahman El Sayed of Egypt competes in the men's javelin throw final during the 15th IAAF World Championships at the National Stadium in Beijing, China August 26, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

While football has been mostly the ultimate source of joy for Egyptian sports fans over the past decade, it took a backseat in 2015 to make way for athletes who came out of the shadows to steal the limelight.

With Egypt's football team failing to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, which was staged from 17 January to 8 February, and Cairo's famed clubs Ahly and Zamalek suffering stunning defeats in a secondary African competition, there was not much to boast of.

The Pharaohs kept falling in the FIFA ranking for national teams and domestic football was plagued by numerous fan-related problems, including a deadly incident in February that led to a lengthy stoppage of the Premier League.

More than 20 Zamalek fans died in a stampede after being tear-gassed by security forces before the start of a league game at an army-owned stadium in Cairo, prompting authorities to reverse a decision to lift a crowd ban and reigniting a debate over whether more security measures are needed before supporters are allowed back in the stands.

The hardcore fan groups of Ahly and Zamalek kept pressing for another lifting of the crowd ban but security officials remained firm in their rigid stance, supported by a media campaign that vilified the Ultras.

On the pitch, Zamalek won the league for the first time since 2004 to end the hegemony of bitter rivals Ahly before completing the domestic double with a cup triumph but both clubs bowed out at the semi-final stage of the African Confederation Cup after embarrassing defeats by Tunisia's Etoile Sahel and South Africa's Orlando Pirates respectively.

From obscurity to glory

Egypt's sporting achievements came from an unlikely source.

The country's below-par record of Olympic medals is mainly blamed on the little amount of money spent on athletes and stories of rare success usually make headlines as more of a phenomenon defying the odds rather than a result of a well-oiled plan.

A couple of swimmers stood out, with United States-trained Farida Osman becoming the first-ever Egyptian to qualify for the women’s 50m butterfly final at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan after finishing fifth with a time of 25.78 seconds.

Ahmed Akram followed suit in the men's contest at the same competition, finishing fourth in the men's 1500m final with 14:53.66m.

More success followed in the All-Africa Games in Congo in September, with Osman and Akram winning four gold medals each.

"It was the first time that we got that attention from the media. A lot of people were waiting for us at the airport and that was great," Osman told Ahram Online following her arrival in Cairo from the Russian city of Kazan.

Akram said: "Thank God that I was part of this great achievement for my country and myself. Now I have to make an extra effort and concentrate more in the coming stage as my main target will be winning an Olympic medal in next year’s 1500m challenge in Brazil."

Javelin throw might have sounded unfamiliar for many Egyptians but it witnessed another unprecedented achievement, gifting the country with its first ever world medal in athletics.

Ihab Abdel-Rahman, 26, won the silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing, writing his name in the athletics hall of fame with a throw of 88.99 metres, 3.73 metres less than gold medalist Julius Yego of Kenya.

"I'm crazy happy, super crazy happy today. I'm also very happy because I got the first ever world medal for my country.

"I love my country and I hope to also do well next year," he added, referring to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Egypt’s squash domination remained intact, with world number one Mohamed Elshorbagy winning the British Open for the first time in his career after defeating Gregory Gaultier in a May final before defeating the Frenchman again in the final of the Qatar Classic in November.

Dark horse Omar Mosaad also reached the World Championships final before losing to Gaultier and Raneem El-Weleily, 26, who became the first Egyptian female athlete to occupy the top spot in any sport after topping WISPA ranking in September.

"Since I was 12, I have always dreamt of becoming the world’s number one, one day. I won the world juniors title at 16 and was number one at that level but I must say it is nothing compared to how difficult it is to reach the number one spot at the senior level," she said in an interview with Ahram Online.

The only blot on the athletics copybook was a stunning two-year suspension imposed on Greco-Roman wrestler Karam Gaber, one of Egypt's most decorated Olympians, after he had been adjudged to have "either failed to file the doping tests or missed them."

The suspension means Gaber, winner of the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games and silver at the 2012 London Games, will not be present in Rio de Janeiro next year.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)


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