INTERVIEW: Egypt’s two-time Olympic medalist Hedaya Malak relishes hard work behind Tokyo medal

Hedaya Malak is the only Egyptian Taekwondo fighter to win two medals in the discipline with her bronzes at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020

Ghada Abdel-Kader, Friday 30 Jul 2021
Hedaya
Egypt s Hedaya Malak poses on the podium after the taekwondo women s -67kg gold medal bouts during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. AFP

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History has been made. Egyptian champion Hedaya Malak has become the first Arab woman to win two consecutive Olympic medals in Taekwondo after collecting bronzes at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.

“Thanks be to God, it is the result of five years of hard work since the end of the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro 2016,” Malak told Ahram Online.

“I cannot express my feelings of happiness and joy to make my homeland and the Egyptian people happy and proud,” she said, smiling.

Malak claimed a bronze medal after beating the American fighter Paige McPherson 17-6 in the women’s -67 kg event in Tokyo.

“The most difficult match was my first against French player Henin, because it was decisive for my presence in the competition. It was necessary to win to continue my journey in Olympics,” Malak said.

She had a tight win over French fighter Magda Weit Henin 11-10 in the Round of 16. But then she lost by a very narrow margin of 13-12 against the 2019 European Champion Laurean Williams, who went on to win the silver medal.

She redeemed herself during the repechage game to crush Malia Paseka of Tonga 19-0 before beating American Paige McPherson 17-6 in the bronze medal contest.

“The match was very difficult against McPherson, who is world number 4. I was very focused. I had the will and determination to win, especially as it was the final game,” she said. 

This is her second Olympic medal in her sports career after winning the Rio 2016 medal in a different category in the -57kg event. Throughout Egyptian Taekwondo history, this is an unprecedented achievement.

COVID-19 challenges

Malak faced many challenges due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 and the postponing of the Olympic Games, as have many other athletes. It was not an easy task to stay active at home and maintain the same level during the lockdown and quarantine period.

“I continued my exercises and training at home with my Mexican coach through the internet in order to keep my physical fitness,” she added.

“This period was very difficult for me, especially as Taekwondo is a contact sport. It depends mainly on interacting between two players,” she said.

“During the sports shutdown, Rawabit Sports Company and my official sponsor the National Bank of Egypt provided me with all the equipment. They did not delay in anything I needed to keep my fitness,” she added.

“Frankly speaking, everyone was very supportive and helpful, starting with the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Egyptian Olympic Committee, Rawabit Sports Company, the National Bank of Egypt and the Egyptian Taekwondo Federation. Thank God, I was able to crown this fatigue with success in the end,” she concluded.

Highlights of her career

Malak started practicing taekwondo at the age of seven. Her older brother was national junior champion in the sport.

This encouraged her to play the same sport. She won medal a bronze medal at the National Junior Championship U10, which was her first medal. She also, achieved bronze then, gold medals at national junior championshipsU12.

In 2011, Malak joined the senior Egyptian team and participated in all African Games for the first time, winning a gold medal in the 57kg category, and in the Arab Games as well.

After that, Malak was chosen to represent Egypt in the Olympics London 2012 and reached the quarter finals.

Four years later, she reached stardom, winning the bronze at Rio in the 57kg event.

In 2018, she switched her category to -67kg. She recalls that it was a tough transition and it took her some time to bounce back to her winning ways after initially losing the first three Grand Prix.

She won the gold medal at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, and took the bronze medals in the 2019 Grand Prix in Rome and the 2021 African Championships in Dakar.

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