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.”


Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

Updated 26 June 2019
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Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

  • The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy

RENNES, France: Tears were still flowing from Saki Kumagai’s eyes more than 30 minutes later.
With victorious Dutch rivals passing her on the way out of the stadium, Japan’s captain seemed to find solace in speaking about the penalty long after it cost her team a place in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.
With Tuesday night’s game entering the 90th minute locked at 1-1, Kumagai’s outstretched left arm blocked the shot Vivianne Miedema had aimed into the right side of the net.
“It had my hand for sure,” Kumagai said. “It’s difficult to accept but it’s also sad. I know that is football.”
Referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the penalty spot and Lieke Martens netted her second goal of the game in the 90th minute to seal a 2-1 victory that sent the Netherlands into the quarterfinals for the first time.
“We have made history,” Martens said. “I’m not usually taking the penalties but I felt really good this game. I asked Sherida Spitse if I could take it and she gave it directly to me and I felt quite relaxed about it.”
The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy on Saturday after going one stage further than their Women’s World Cup debut four years ago.
“We were standing in the circle after the match and we were so happy, yelling at each other,” Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said. “We were saying, ‘Let’s continue writing history.’“
It is journey’s end for Japan, which won the 2011 tournament and was the runner-up four years later.
The strength of the second-half display counted for nothing.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. A backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
But the post, crossbar and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal thwarted Japan’s pursuit of a winning goal.
“I think we lacked the clinical edge,” Japan coach Asako Takakura said. “We have to accept the result, we’re defeated, we’re very disappointed and for all the players I feel very sorry for them and frustrated.”
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
“It’s really tough to be here,” Netherlands forward Miedema said. “Sometimes it kind of feels like a Euros.”
That is a title already won by this team, thanks to Miedema’s goals in the final two years ago on home soil.
The fans won’t have far to travel for the World Cup quarterfinal, with Valenciennes around two hours’ drive from the Netherlands.
It will be another chance for the orange-clad fans who danced and sang their way in a convoy to the stadium on Tuesday to stamp their mark on this tournament.
They were certainly given a game to savor, and an audacious opening goal.
Martens flicked in the opener after evading her marker to meet a corner and send the ball through the legs of Yuika Sugasawa into the net.
Sugasawa had a quick chance to tie, only to hit the post. But Japan did equalize by completing an intricate move.
Hina Sugita squared across the penalty area to Yuika Sugasawa, who passed back to Mana Iwabuchi on the edge of the penalty area. After holding off Jackie Groenen on the turn, Iwabuchi slipped the ball through to Hasegawa, who was free to delicately dink a shot over Van Veenendaal into the corner of the net.
It was some way to make the most of a first shot on target for a team that failed to score in two of its three group stage games.
But parity nearly didn’t last long.
Miedema received the ball from Shanice van de Sanden but with only Ayaka Yamashita to beat struck straight at the Japan goalkeeper.
Van Veenendaal came to the rescue of the Dutch in the second half by denying Emi Nakajima as Japan chased the winner.
“Japan is a world class team and you saw that today,” Miedema said. “In the second half you can see they have loads of quality on the pitch.”