Egyptian weightlifter Sara Samir raises the bar for women

The exploits of Sara Samir, known in competitions as Sara Ahmed, 20, has boosted female participation in Egyptian weightlifting championships. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2018
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Egyptian weightlifter Sara Samir raises the bar for women

  • She became the first Egyptian Olympian to be presented with a medal on the podium
  • Number of girls competing seriously in weightlifting has surged nearly tenfold

Her sinews stretched above the neckline of a long-sleeved training top, 20-year-old Egyptian Sara Samir propels a barbell carrying more than 90 kilos above her head, before the weights smash back to earth.
Even before this impressive lift, it’s clear Samir has a commanding presence in the national team’s weightlifting hall in Cairo.
She has become something of a trendsetter since winning bronze in the 69kg class at the 2016 Olympic Games — the first female Egyptian Olympian to be presented with a medal on the podium.
“After I won the medal in Rio, girls started weightlifting in a big way in Ismailiya,” she said with a beaming smile, referring to her home province.
But it wasn’t always like that for Samir, who competes under the name “Sara Ahmed.”
“People would tell me things like ‘Oh, you weightlift? Can you carry me?’” she said of her experience aged 11, when she first began training.
On the back of her Olympic success, the number of girls competing seriously in weightlifting has surged nearly tenfold.
“Female participants in weightlifting championships were no more than 30 or 40 girls,” said Mohamed Eldib, head coach of the national weightlifting team, after he supervised Samir and her peers in the southern Cairo district of Maadi.
Now more than 300 girls are registered with the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation, he said.
“Winning forms a strong motivation for female athletes ... and gives hope in the possibility of accomplishing wins, whatever the difficulties,” sports analyst Mohamed Seif told AFP.
The challenges include a “lack of interest of the family which cares first about the boy” since girls are expected to stop practicing sport when they get married, Seif said.
Girls are encouraged to take part in other sports such as swimming or gymnastics, he said, rather than weightlifting or athletics.
Before Samir’s bronze, Egypt had not won a single weightlifting medal since 1948 — a drought of nearly 70 years.
Her triumph was followed the same day by another bronze won by male weightlifter Mohamed Mahmoud.
Samir is completely absorbed by her training. “Her whole mind is weightlifting,” said her coach proudly.
She has also benefited from supportive parents — as a girl, it was Samir’s father who accepted her wish to start weightlifting and took her to training.
Months later, she won a gold medal in Egypt’s national championships in the under-14 age group. At just 13, she joined the national team.
But Samir is not the only Egyptian woman to have made it big on the world weightlifting stage.
Years after competing, compatriot Abeer Abdelrahman is due to be handed Olympic medals retroactively, after podium winners were stripped of their medals due to testing positive for doping.
Abdelrahman had originally come fifth in both the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London.
In 2016, she was informed she had won a silver medal in London, and a few months later that she would be awarded a bronze medal for Beijing.
And last year, Shaimaa Khalaf, 26, won silver and bronze at the US World Championships in the +90kg weight category.
But despite such major successes, weightlifting and other sports are not the government’s top priority — a spot reserved for football in Egypt.
“The state usually reacts at the moment of the accomplishment ... and then as time passes we forget and focus on football,” said Seif.
Eldib said that while state funding covers the national team’s needs, the lack of funding for gyms limits potential champions because many people do not have access to weightlifting training.
All of Samir’s medals since she began competing — more than 50, she said — are gold, except for two bronze, including the Rio Olympic medal.
Her secret?
“It all depends on how much you want to achieve,” she said, echoing her coach Eldib, who believes girls “have higher levels of tolerance in training than boys.”


Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019
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Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”



ROGER FEDERER

Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”



RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”



MARIN CILIC

The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.



ANGELIQUE KERBER

Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.