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Egypt's new Olympic prodigy
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 08 - 2008

Winning bronze in judo, Mesbah becomes Egypt's first medallist at the Beijing Olympics, Inas Mazhar reports
Hisham Mesbah was nobody's centre of attention at the Beijing Olympic Games -- not even the Egyptians'. In fact, he was nowhere near being one of Egypt's favourites to win a medal. It's almost as though he came out of the blue to surprise Egyptian officials in Beijing, just as wrestler Karam Gaber had in the Athens Games four years ago.
Snatching the bronze medal in the 90kg weight category, and after the sudden defeat and elimination of Gaber in his first match, Mesbah has become Egypt's new Olympic prodigy. Two weeks into the Games, Mesbah's medal is Egypt's only one so far. But who knows, the Egyptians might take as we go to press.
In what constituted his second participation in the Olympic Games, 26-year-old Mesbah defeated Yves-Matthieu Dafreville of France. Mesbah's is Egypt's second Olympic medal in judo in 24 years. Mohamed Rashwan had claimed silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
On his way to the play-off match for the bronze medal, Mesbah won all but one match. He defeated Sunho Choi of Korea in round 32, then lost to Iraki Tsirekidze of Georgia, the eventual gold medalist, in round 16. Mesbah then beat Elkhan Mammadov of Azerbijan in the repechage, Andrei Kazusenok of Belarus in the repechage semi- final, and finally Yves-Matthieu Dafreville of France in the bronze medal final.
Born in Alexandria on 17 March 1982, Mesbah has had an impressive career. His achievements started in 2001, when he won a bronze medal at the African Judo Championships and defended his medal in the same championship in 2002. In 2004, he claimed the gold medal but then dropped to the silver in the following championship in 2005. He won silver in the Mediterranean Games that same year, and secured a fifth-place finish at the World Judo Championships, held in Egypt. In 2007, Mesbah claimed the gold medal at the All-Africa Games in Algeria and kept his fifth place at the World Championship. This year, Mesbah was silver medallist at the African Championship, before going to the Olympics.
A lucrative cash prize awaits Mesbah. The National Sports Council has pledged to pay the bronze medallist a LE one million pounds.
Unfortunately, Egyptians at Beijing and here in Cairo barely had the chance to celebrate Mesbah's victory, when they were stunned by the defeat of Athens gold medallist Karam Gaber. The former champion lost following a decision taken by points. There has been no comment on the reasons for his defeat. Everything was set for the player to win and claim a medal. His demands were fulfilled. Egyptian officials exerted great effort in order to convince the organisers to allow Gaber's brother and trainer Adel to stay near the mat, as that boosts his morale. Nonetheless, Gaber fell to his Albanian opponent.
And for the first time in 12 years, the Egyptian handball team was eliminated early on in the Olympic tournament. Since 1996, the Egyptians have either made it to sixth or seventh place. But in Beijing they were unlucky, as they failed to win a single game. Refereeing played a part in Egypt's results. Egyptians complained. But complaints never changed results, even when they were accepted.
Egypt had drawn the first game against Denmark 23-23 before narrowly losing to Russia 27- 26 in the second. In the third match, Germany capitalised on two late Egyptian suspensions to beat the African champion with two nettings by Michael Krause and Dominik Klein. Despite Pascal Hens' absence, Germany still led by a narrow advantage, though they couldn't extend the gap with left-back Hussein Zaki, Egypt's top scorer, securing seven goals. Zaki proved to be an equal match to his German counterpart Holger Glandorf. Both teams' goalkeepers made some great saves, but the final suspension asked for by Egypt fulfilled the Europeans' drive to win.
While they didn't secure a quarterfinal slot, Egypt attacked Iceland in the following match in high spirits from the start and led 17-14 in the first half, with Mohamed Ramadan and Zaki contributing a series of goals. Again, Zaki was top scorer for the Egyptian team, with nine goals out of twelve attempts scored.
A tired Icelandic team fought back, with Gudjon Valur Siguredsson working hard after the interval, scoring a team-high 10 goals. The second half saw a close affair, with coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson's making a great effort to motivate his underperforming players. A last-minute equaliser scored by Snorri Steinn Gudjonsson gave Iceland a vital point and led to their 32-32 draw with Egypt.
Finally Egypt bid farewell to the Beijing Olympics, after they failed to overpower the Korean team (ROK) in this live-or-die match, forfeiting the quarterfinal spot to their opponent. Egypt lost 22-24.
Though Egypt put on a strong performance in the first half, and the ROK team fumbled in defence, key player Mohamed Abdel-Salam, who scored a team-high eight goals for Egypt, was stifled in the second half by his opponents. Improving its attacks, the ROK gradually pushed the margin to the minimum and finally led by a narrow advantage of two goals in the end, thanks to top scorer Paek Won-chul, who contributed two goals in the last three minutes.
But while the handball team managed to at least draw in two matches, the volleyball team lost all their games. Serbia easily defeated Egypt 25-16, 25-13, 25-17, to pass Germany in the pool B standings of men's volleyball, and clinch a quarterfinal spot on the last day of the preliminary round. As the lowest-ranked quarterfinal qualifier in the pool, Serbia will have to face the top- ranked team in pool A in the first match of the elimination round.
Ivan Miljkovic was the key man in attack, as the Serbian team outclassed the team's opponents from the start. They scored five points from blocks in a first set sealed by Mahmoud Abd El-Kader's service error. Miljkovic continued to find holes in the Egyptian defence, ably supported by Dejan Bojovic and Milos Nikic of Serbia. The Balkan side established a two-set lead after Bojovic blocked Mohamed Gabal of Egypt.
Gabal led the way as Egypt rallied to make a contest of the third set, but with 13-point Bojovic in sparkling form the Serbs were not to be denied, and a service error from Gabal at match point spelled the ending for the north Africans.
Egypt leaves the tournament having lost all of its five matches in straight sets. Egypt had qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games by winning the Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament in South Africa in February 2008. They prevailed in a thrilling five-set victory against Algeria. The 2008 campaign was Egypt's third Olympic appearance after finishing tenth in 1984 in Los Angeles and eleventh in 2000 in Sydney.
Egypt has won the African Championships four times, celebrating back-to-back victories in 2005 and 2007.
All other Egyptian teams bid farewell to Beijing, in shooting, fencing, swimming, athletics, wrestling, gymnastics, synchronised swimming and boxing -- the latter being the sport that has produced three medals in the previous Games but failed to claim any this time.
And while the Games come to a close in three days, Egyptians are still hoping and keeping their fingers crossed for the remaining events, hoping to claim medals. Hopes are especially high in the modern pentathlon and tae kwon do competitions.


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