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It's great to be single
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 12 - 2018

It was not the year for team sports, with no achievements of note in football, volleyball, handball or basketball. But what a year it was for individual sports.
Though last year Egypt's football team was runner-up at the Africa Cup of Nations and later qualified for the 2018 World Cup, it wasn't the same this year. If anything, this year was their worst in many years with a very poor performance in the World Cup in Russia, a display which angered the entire nation. The team could not get past the group stage, losing to Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia and finishing 31 out of the 32 teams.
In club football, Ahly, Zamalek and Masri could not win either the African Champions League, Confederation Cup or the Arab Champions Cup.
One redeeming feature in football was Mohamed Salah, bringing glory to both his team Liverpool and the Egyptian National Team. Salah had started the year in style, winning African Footballer of the Year. The 26-year-old had an impressive first half of the year leading his English club to the final of the Champions League, only to be injured by Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid in their infamous tangle. Despite the injury, Salah scored twice for the Pharaohs in the two matches he played in Russia.
Al-Welili vs Al-Sherbini
The start of this season saw Salah starting slowly, raising some question marks. But soon, he was back to his old self, appearing on the shortlist of three major football awards. He was third in the UEFA, third in FIFA and winner of the Puskas award for best goal, thus making himself the first Arab and African player to join such a list of honours. At the France Football Ballon d'Or he finished sixth. On 14 December, Salah retained his BBC African Player of the Year award for the second year in a row. He is also eyeing another CAF African Player of the Year Award in January, and in which he is a favourite.
But again, this was the year of the single athlete. This year fully opened its arms to embrace the achievements of sportsmen and sportswomen in individual sports, who in turn made their own teams successful.
Modern pentathlon athletes were the most successful this year, thanks to Ahmed Al-Guindi who was recently named the best junior athlete in the sport, winning two gold medals at the world championships and the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Al-Guindi's teammate Salma Ayman did the same. Altogether, Egyptian athletes collected 77 medals – 30 gold, 21 silver and 26 bronze. In the Masters event, the Egyptian over-50 team claimed the bronze medal behind Germany and Spain.
Al-Guindi was named best junior male athlete of 2018 at the international federation's annual awards held during the 70th anniversary gala of UIPM, the international governing body of the modern pentathlon. Another Egyptian, Omar Hossam, received the Fair Play Award after taking the Youth Olympic Games by storm and bringing home two gold medals for the first time in Egypt's history. The country's modern pentathlon athletes hauled in 77 medals in the 2018 Biathle/Triathle World Championships in all age categories, starting from eight years old.
In squash, reigning Egyptian world champions Mohamed Al-Shorbagi and Raneem Al-Welili took silverware on finals night at the FS Investments US Open Squash Championship after they defeated Germany's Simon Rosner and another Egyptian, world No 1 Nour Al-Sherbini respectively at Philadelphia's Drexel University.
Squash was one of the sports in which an achievement was made almost every week at all levels – men and women, juniors and seniors, that it was hard to count them all. Leading the world's top 10 players in the Professional Squash Association's list was Al-Shorbagi, Al-Sherbini, Al-Welili, Ali Farag, Marawan Al-Shorbagi, Karim Abdel-Gawwad, Tarek Momen and Mohamed Abul-Ghar. They swept the world's major competitions in the US, England, France, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Though playing individually, they together won the World's Teams Championships.
This year also set new records in the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, Spain, the African Youth Games in Algiers, Algeria and the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Egypt had huge delegations to all three events and, again, almost all the medal hauls came in individual sports.
The Mediterranean Games offered a badly needed respite for Egypt after they were ousted from the group stage of the World Cup in an embarrassing fashion. The games brought back smiles to the depressed faces of Egyptians who had seen their football team display their worst at the world's most prestigious sports event. Some Egyptian athletes, not as famous as the footballers, nonetheless stunned the world and made Egypt proud with their brilliant performances and astounding results. In the Med Games, Egypt finished fifth in the medals table behind Italy, Spain, Turkey and France with 45 overall medals – 18 gold, 11 silver and 16 bronze medals
Egypt was also triumphant at the 2018 African Youth Games as they conquered the Dark Continent with their talented athletes, hauling in an outstanding overall total medal count of 199 to top the final standings, far ahead of their opponents. The young Pharaohs claimed an astounding 101 gold medals, 55 silver and 43 bronze. The boys won 110 medals – 59 gold, 28 silver and 23 bronze while the girls won 81 medals – 36 gold, 24 silver and 21 bronze. The mixed teams claimed nine medals: six gold and three silver.
Egypt's medal haul in Buenos Aires was the most at any Youth Olympic Games for the country. Egypt did what it had not done before at the YOG. The athletes collected 12 medals – three gold, two silver and seven bronze medals – to finish in 22nd place at the medals table out of 92 nations who made it to the podium. Egypt's medal collection in Buenos Aires was the highest in its YOG history, having won six medals in the inaugural event in Singapore 2010 and eight medals in the second edition, Nanjing 2014. The achievement also made Egypt the most successful nation in the Arab, North Africa and Middle East region. Other Arab countries who garnered medals were Morocco (7), Algeria (5), Tunisia (3), Saudi Arabia (3), Qatar (2), UAE (1) and Jordan (1).
Fatma Omar
There were other achievements in other individual sports at world and international events in taekwondo, karate, weightlifting, swimming, speedball and wrestling. Taekwondo champion Hedaya Malak maintained her remarkable comeback after injury to win the gold medal at the 14th Taekwondo French Open G2 and inch closer to a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Seif Eissa won the bronze medal at the penultimate Grand Prix of 2018 in Manchester. Prior to Manchester, Eissa was scooping up medals. He took the bronze in the African Championship in Agadir, Morocco, the silver medal in Al-Hassan Open in Amman, Jordan, the bronze medal in the Austrian Open and the bronze in the Grand Prix in Taoyuan.
Meanwhile, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) signed Mohamed Fahim, a 28-year-old boxing champion from Cairo, to a developmental contract. The prize fighter reported to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, and is expected to begin his in-ring training soon. Standing 185 cms and weighing 90kg, Fahim has boxed competitively since 2007, winning championships at the university level, as well as gold medals in national events.
Wrestler Mohamed Al-Sayed became the first Egyptian in 12 years to win a gold medal at the World Championships in Bucharest, Romania in the Under-23 67kg weight category in Greco-Roman. The achievement comes after more than a barren decade void of gold for Egypt, and the first in any age group, in any style of wrestling, Greco or Free.
Al-Sayed wasn't the only Egyptian who made it to the podium in the World Championships. Another promising youngster took a bronze medal in the 82kg weight category. African champion Ahmed Hassan beat Iran's Mahdi Ibrahimi 5-4 to take third place. In the women's competition, Egypt's Samar Hamza claimed fifth place at the -72kg event.
Olympics superb weightlifter Mohamed Ihab claimed victory with a gold, silver and bronze in the -81kg category at the World Championships while teammate Sara Samir also clinched three medals in the women's -71kg weight category; two silver medals and one bronze in her weight. Both Samir, Ihab and teammate Shaimaa Khalaf added 6 gold medals each at two events; the International Solidarity Championships and the Arab Championships which were both held days to go for the year ender.
In judo, Ramadan Darwish claimed the bronze medal in the -100kg weight category at the IJF World Judo Tour – the 2018 Tashkent Grand Prix – with the participation of 347 men and women competitors representing 47 countries. Darwish beat Montenegro's Pantic Danilo to win the bronze with a full ippon. By mid December, Darwish concluded his successful year by clinching the bronze medal of the 2018 IJF World Masters Championships in Guangzhou.
Karate was also a hit at the World Championships with three bronze medals won by Gianna Farouk in the -61kg category and Shaimaa Abul-Yazid in the over 68kg weight category. The women's kummite team also claimed the bronze medal of the teams' event.
Equestrian Sameh Al-Dahan won the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Paris. The victory earned the Egyptian horse rider standing praise and a round of applause from the crowds for his brilliant performance. The young Egyptian and his mare Suma's Zorro turned the tables on the heavyweights of show jumping, triumphing against 10 world-class riders in a stimulating and exhilarating jump on the spectacular stage of the Champs de Mars, next to the Eiffel Tower, allowing him to secure victory at the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Paris. Al-Dahan's victory also allowed him to qualify for the LGCT Super Grand Prix in Prague this December.
Special Olympics athletes too had their share of achievements at the Regional Games which was held in Abu Dhabi, scooping up 30 medals with the women's football team winning the bronze medal in the World Championships in Chicago.
Handicapped sports athletes also had an excellent year, winning several medals at the World Championships especially in power-lifting.
Looking to next year, with a new coaching staff and better results, the Pharaohs football team are hoping to reconcile with their fans in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), and offset a disastrous 2018.
Next year also promises to be full of action as well as difficulties as Egyptian athletes compete for places in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In keeping with the trend of individuals excelling more than teams, players will be hunting for spots in weightlifting, taekwondo, judo, karate and the modern pentathlon. If squash should become an Olympic sport, Egypt stands to win medals galore, seeing that the country's crop of squash players is currently the best in the world.

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