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Sports Talk: Missing in action
Published in Daily News Egypt on 29 - 08 - 2008

President Mubarak wants to know why Egypt did so badly in Beijing and has set up a fact-finding committee to see what went wrong. We all want to know how is it that from a 177-strong delegation we sent to the Olympics, they got just one lowly bronze medal between them.
Take your pick: field hockey, badminton, synchronized swimming, taekwondo, fencing, equestrianship shooting, table tennis, archery, rowing, boxing, gymnastics. We entered all those and more and came up short almost every time.
Wrestler Karam Gaber, who won the Athens gold and who was the flag bearer for Egypt in the opening ceremonies in Beijing, failed in his first test, losing in the opening round 5-1 to an Albanian.
Modern pentathlete Aya Madani, who we depended on heavily, ended up eighth.
Teammate Omnia Fakhri, who raked a silver medal at the pentathlon world championships in 2002, and again in 2006, the first Egyptian woman to have won a world championship medal in the sport, free fell to 30th place in China.
Swimmer Mohamed Zanati, described beforehand in this newspaper as "one particular champion whose smile you just cannot resist falling in love with, came in 20th place in the 20 km marathon. We can only keep smiling.
Amr El-Geziri set an Olympic record for modern pentathlon swimming. El-Geziri finished the 200m freestyle in 1 minute 55.86 seconds, smashing the previous record of 1:58.88 set at the Athens Games. But El-Geziri dropped out of contention because of poor horse rides. "You don't have to excel at all five events, El-Geziri once told Daily News Egypt. "But being excellent in one and good in the others may give you a good ranking. El-Geziri was indeed excellent in one discipline, average in three and terrible in one. Equals zero medals.
The Washington Post was so taken by wrestler Hayat Farag, that it did a special on her a month before the Games. But the 20-year-old Farag, the first Egyptian female wrestler to compete in any Olympics, swallowed her tongue while grappling with her first round Cuban opponent.
Why Farag entered wrestling in the first place is a mystery: Before Beijing, she said it would be her last time on the mat regardless of what she accomplished. because being a devout Muslim, she believes the skintight uniform she has to wear to wrestle is an affront to female modesty. If Farag had concentrated more on winning than with what she was wearing, perhaps she would have done better.
Junior world discus champion Omar Ghazali, who is so big he passes through a doorway with difficulty, wasn't big enough for the task at hand.
Men's volleyball not only lost all their five games; in the process they did not win a single set. The men's handball, while far from winning a medal, were respectable in defeat. They registered no wins but tied twice. All three losses were close, losing as they did by a combined five goals.
Our first and only medal was thanks to an unknown judoka, Hesham Mesbah, who beat out Belarusian Andrei Kazusionak to win the bronze medal.
Egypt is great against Arab and African competition, but almost invisible when it comes to high-level challenges, and they don't come any harder than the Olympics. In Beijing, nobody expected us to do well; our history provides all the evidence needed. Since Egypt competed in its first Olympics in 1928 it has managed a total of just 24 medals.
But five medals were accrued in Athens, including a gold. Are we going forward or backwards?
The committee tasked with discovering our weaknesses will find fault in the three things needed to get atop the podium: hard working sports federations, world class coaching and skilful, hungry athletes.
In many instances, though, the committee will not find it easy to apportion blame. Nobody likes to lose, and unless you've been bribed to fix a result, nobody losses on purpose. The slower, the lower and the weaker have goals and dreams of their own that they just could not realize.
The Games also mean coming in last, and that is as much a part of the Olympic experience as winning. There are thousands more losers than winners in any Olympics. We only wished we had a few more of the latter.

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