Olympic Hopefuls

With the Rio Olympics just around the corner, Egypt is uniting behind its athletes participating in this ultimate global athletic competition. There is an expectation that some new national heroes will be born this summer. eniGma’s Mahmoud Al Badry spoke to five promising Egyptian Olympic athletes about their athletic journeys, how they view Egypt’s athletic infrastructure, and their goals for the Olympics.

Dina Meshref (Table Tennis):
I’ve always loved rackets for the things that they allow you to do with a ball. Thankfully I discovered this passion at a young age. I actually played tennis before delving into ping pong. When I was seven, one day my parents asked me if I wanted to go to my tennis practice or to play table tennis instead. I chose the latter, and ever since, my love for the game hasn’t diminished a single bit. I immediately wanted to excel at it. At first, I dreamt of participating in any competition, since that would mean that I was pretty good. After I did that, there was a constant urge within me to continuously improve my performance, which in turn led me to improve my work ethic towards the game.

Being a professional athlete in Egypt obviously means a lot to me. I love my country and whenever I’m competing, I think of it as a chance to make the world aware of the progress that Egypt is making in table tennis and sports in general. Nevertheless, as an Egyptian athlete, you can’t help but feel that your accomplishments would be better appreciated elsewhere, since our country’s main focus is on football. It needs to be said, though, that the country’s infrastructure for professional athletes has improved markedly under the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Khaled Abdel-Aziz.

The main advice that I would give to any rising athlete in the country would be to never give up and to always maintain a positive line of thought. There’s no substitute for hard work; continuously exerting extra effort is the surest way to succeed.

In this year’s Olympics, my hard work is making me very optimistic about coming out with a satisfactory result. Since I’ll be representing my country on a truly global scale, I know that I’ll give it my all to hopefully achieve a result that will both please me and the country as a whole.

Omar Assar (Table Tennis):
I started playing ping pong in Kafr El Sheikh, an area fairly famous for its love for the game. Besides working in the Ministry of Sports, my Dad was a table tennis coach. The game piqued my athletic interests. Ping pong stood out for me mainly because of the intense level of competition I experienced playing the sport.

Being a professional athlete is a truly beautiful thing. I think that this is among the best professions that anyone could choose. At this point, table tennis really runs in my veins; I can’t picture myself doing anything else. Few things in life make me as happy as playing ping pong.

In Egypt, it isn’t easy for virtually any sport that isn’t football. In many ways, people don’t really understand the sacrifices that professional athletes have to make in order to excel. When you start getting good results, however, people become more understanding, and recognize that being a professional athlete is worthy of respect and admiration. Abroad, this respect is given as soon as you take the decision to dedicate your life to a sport.

My preparation for this year’s Olympics started about a year ago when I found out that I qualified due to my world ranking. It has always been a dream for me to qualify, not merely for Africa, but based on my global ranking. Thankfully, I managed to succeed in that goal even before I won the African championships. When I was a kid, I always had hugely ambitious dreams, and now as a 24 year old, I’ve accomplished most of them. Dreaming really is the first step in achieving.

My training is very rigorous. Not only do I rely on an enormous amount of people to keep me fit and motivated, but I also have to practice as hard as I can without sustaining an injury. My chances in the Olympics are predicated mainly on my focus and determination. I really hope to perform well and accomplish something truly big in order to give back to this country that’s given me so much.

Farida Osman (Swimming):
I started swimming when I was four. My mom used to bring me along to watch my brother in his swimming practice. My parents then decided to teach me how to swim for safety purposes. I wasn’t afraid of the water like most kids were, and I found myself comfortable and relaxed while swimming. I started to go to swimming practice as well, and the rest is history really.

As a student-athlete in the University of Berkeley, I don’t consider swimming to be my profession. Under the NCAA rules, I’m not considered a professional swimmer and I’m not allowed to be sponsored or to receive any prize money from any competition that I participate in. Once I graduate, though, swimming will be a very tempting career option for me.

My experience as an athlete in Egypt was fairly rough. To be a successful, world class athlete, not only do you need a successful club and a coach, but you also need your country’s financial aid and psychological support. It’s a whole package really, and in my opinion, it is still at its infant stage in Egypt. I think we have to start from elementary schools. We have to encourage sports from a younger age through introducing all kinds of sports in our school system. We need to construct facilities that will encourage youngsters to participate. The biggest problem in Egypt is that people don’t understand the amount of sacrifice that it takes, how much determination and commitment you need to achieve your goals.

My goal in the upcoming Olympics is to hopefully win a gold medal. I understand how difficult that will be, yet I’m very confident that my training and abilities could allow me to succeed. To be able to chase such a goal while representing my country is a huge honor for me. Raising the Egyptian flag at the podium would really mean the world to me.

Nadeen El Dawlaty (Table Tennis):
In many ways, ping pong is a family affair for me, since the sport brought my parents together, when both of them were Africa champions. My brother and sister, both older, continued that heritage and became champions of Egypt before me. When I first started playing, I immediately realised that there was no way I would just play the game as a mere hobby; my competitive spirit and strive to improve quickly made it a daily addiction. Afterwards, I found myself competing in tournaments, which drove me to continue to improve along this path.

From my very first tournament, I knew that this was the career that I wanted to pursue above all else. It wasn’t always easy. The constant travel for tournaments had a noticeable toll on my academic life. Really, if I didn’t like the sport as much as I did, there’s no way I have been able to tolerate the struggles I had to go through. The struggles ended up confirming that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Participating in the Olympics never seemed far-fetched to me. It was always a dream of mine and a target that I expected to achieve. Qualifying to London 2012 from my first trial was immensely gratifying to me, which heightened the expectations that I set for myself. I don’t view qualification as a dream anymore; I view it as a responsibility. My goal right now is to reach the top 16 in the Olympics. By 2020, I expect to reach the semifinals.

Maha Amer (Diving):
I started diving when I was eight, which was a bit late since the ideal starting age is five. Since then, my journey has been invigorating and challenging, in equal parts. As a diver, very few things bring me as much joy as the chills that I get when I’m trying a new dive, or when I’m mid-air. It’s a sport that makes you constantly excited for what’s next.

The less rewarding side of the coin is the constant struggle to juggle my love for diving with my academic and social life. Finding a balance is always difficult. Most schools in Egypt really don’t offer you support; teachers don’t appreciate the effort and dedication that you put into the sport. All of which end up taking a considerable toll on you; but at the end of the day, your achievements provide you with lovely memories to cherish forever.

While we don’t have the type of facilities that allow us to fully excel, the Egyptian Federation really does its best to provide us with the best tools at its disposal. More importantly, young people need to understand that every night you spend practicing will positively affect your performance later on. In other words, you’ll always get the chance to go out and have fun throughout your life, but being a champion only happens once in a lifetime. We need to start working on our future as much as we prioritize our present.

I have some mixed feelings about my participation in the Olympics. On the one hand, the tension and stress are very palpable at this point, but at the same time, I still can’t believe that accomplishing my dream is just around the corner. I really feel that Egypt is crying out for something to cheer for, and I hope that I succeed in providing that in the Olympics.