Rio Paralympics’ Syrian flagbearer eyes Tokyo return

Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein poses before a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein poses before a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein prepares for a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein prepares for a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein takes part in a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein takes part in a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2021

Rio Paralympics’ Syrian flagbearer eyes Tokyo return

Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein poses before a training session at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens, on June 2, 2021. (AFP)
  • As a child, Al-Hussein would swim along the banks of the Euphrates river with his father, already harboring Olympic dreams.

ATHENS: When he lost his lower leg in a 2012 bomb explosion in Syria, Ibrahim Al-Hussein never imagined he would one day swim in the pool where his Olympic idols broke records.
Just four years later, he was the flag bearer of a token refugee team debuting in the Rio 2016 Paralympics, and is now eyeing a return to competition in the Tokyo Games.
"Nothing is impossible," said the 32-year-old as he began a day of training at the pool of the Athens Olympic complex.
He hopes to inspire fellow refugees. "You have to fight, with your body, with your heart... you can do anything you want in your life," Al-Hussein said.
When he was still 15, Al-Hussein would follow the exploits of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps in the 2004 Athens Olympics from his home in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor.
The pool in Athens "is where my story began," he says, smiling.
As a child, Al-Hussein would swim along the banks of the Euphrates river with his father, already harboring Olympic dreams.
His hopes came crashing down when Syria was engulfed in civil war in 2011 and his family was forced to flee.
Al-Hussein stayed behind at first, but after his right leg was injured in the bomb blast and it had to be amputated, he had to leave too, reaching Greece via Turkey in February 2014.
Like tens of thousands of other refugees, he made the risky Aegean Sea crossing and landed at the Greek island of Samos.
"Life in Syria was exceptionally difficult. There was nothing to eat, no electricity, no medicine," he recalls.
"Had I stayed there, I'd be dead."
After living on the streets of Athens for a fortnight, Al-Hussein was directed by a fellow Syrian to Angelos Chronopoulos, a Greek doctor who gave him a prosthetic limb.
Acquiring refugee status in 2015, he was thus able to find work and start to pick up the pieces.
"I was looking for a new homeland, somewhere to resume my life and sport. Greece became my homeland," he says.
After notching victories in Greek disabled competitions, he caught the attention of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which picked him to carry the torch of the 2016 Rio Games flame relay in the Athens refugee camp of Eleonas.
After that, the International Paralympic Committee offered him the chance to join the first-ever refugee team for the Rio Games, and to carry its flag into the historic Maracana Stadium.
He has since participated in European and global disabled swimming championships.
The irony is not lost on Al-Hussein that he only fulfilled his dream of competing in a Games after he lost a leg.
"When I had both legs, it was my dream to compete in the Olympics but I did not make it. I got here (with one leg instead)," he says, laughing.
"I wouldn't stop even if I lost my other leg or an arm. I want to go to Tokyo and I'm going to get there."
There are 56 athletes competing for a place on the Refugee Olympic Team, which made its debut at the 2016 Rio Games, but the hopefuls will be reduced to a team of six.


Euro hero Chiellini signs two-year deal with Juventus

Euro hero Chiellini signs two-year deal with Juventus
Updated 02 August 2021

Euro hero Chiellini signs two-year deal with Juventus

Euro hero Chiellini signs two-year deal with Juventus
  • Chiellini, 36, was out of contract after his previous deal with Juve expired at the end of June
  • He put pen to paper on a contract which runs until 2023

ROME: Giorgio Chiellini has signed a new two-year contract with Juventus, the Serie A club announced on Monday, a few weeks after the Italy captain led his country to triumph at Euro 2020.
Chiellini, 36, was out of contract after his previous deal with Juve expired at the end of June, while Italy were still on their charge to European Championship victory.
He put pen to paper on a contract which runs until 2023, contrary to initial reports in Italy which said he was prepared to agree to a deal until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which takes place in November and December next year.
“Giorgio Chiellini embodies everything that Juventus stands for, and it is through his commitment and excellent displays over the course of last 16 years that has earned him a contract renewal,” Juve said.
“There is an overlap in Giorgio’s DNA and that of Juve’s. He forms a big part of Juve’s history, yet also the present and the future,” they added.
The announcement of his new contract was expected, with chairman Andrea Agnelli saying last week that the club were waiting for the center-back to return from his post-Euro holidays before agreeing a new deal.
Chiellini began his long Juventus career in 2005 and was a pillar of the team which won nine successive Serie A titles before Inter Milan broke their rivals’ run of domestic dominance last season.
He has also contested two Champions League finals and won five Italian Cups with Juventus.
Chiellini and his Juve teammate Leonardo Bonucci were central to Italy’s success at this summer’s Euro, providing the solid basis from which Roberto Mancini’s vibrant team flourished.
The Azzurri won the tournament in impressive style, cruising through their group and seeing off the likes of Belgium and Spain in the knockout stages before beating England on penalties in the final at Wembley.
He has played 112 times for his country, finishing runner-up at Euro 2012.


Belarusian athlete to fly to Warsaw from Tokyo on Wednesday

Belarusian athlete to fly to Warsaw from Tokyo on Wednesday
Updated 02 August 2021

Belarusian athlete to fly to Warsaw from Tokyo on Wednesday

Belarusian athlete to fly to Warsaw from Tokyo on Wednesday
  • Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya will fly from Tokyo on a direct flight to Warsaw

WARSAW: Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya will fly to Warsaw on Wednesday, the chairman of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation said on Monday.
Tsimanouskaya who took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo a day after refusing her team’s orders to board a flight home from the Olympic Games.
“She will fly from Tokyo, a direct flight to Warsaw on August 4, in two days’ time,” Aleksandr Opeykin told Reuters.
“She has accepted the offer issued by the Polish Foreign Ministry to request international help, she has done that and she has received a Polish visa today. We, at the Foundation, helped her to get the ticket to Warsaw,” he added.


‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
  • The high jump rivals and friends decided to share Olympic gold rather than have a deciding jump-off

TOKYO: Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend Mutaz Essa Barshim, calling it the “best thing ever.”

The Qatari and Italian athletes captured the hearts of sports fans around the world when, in an unprecedented show of sporting solidarity, they decided to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump rather than participate in a deciding “jump-off” against each other.

“Mutaz is my big friend so we enjoyed the evening yesterday and we decided to share the gold medal,” Tamberi told Arab News Japan as he prepared to leave the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

“It’s the best thing ever and that’s the Olympic spirit,” he added. “It was amazing.”

Tamberi had perviously revealed that it was Barshim who, more than anyone else, helped him get over the severe disappointment of missing out on the high jump competition at Rio 2016 due to a injury.

On Sunday, the friends and rivals both cleared 2.37 meters, but then failed with three attempts each at 2.39 meters.

As a Tokyo 2020 official explained to Tamberi and Barshim that a jump-off could be introduced to separate them, the Qatari athlete uttered the words that have now gone down in Olympic history: “Can we have two golds?”

As the official confirmed they could, the duo hugged and broke into tearful celebrations, finally banishing years of injuries and close calls.

Having won bronze in London in 2012 and silver in Rio five years ago, the 30-year-old Barshim now has his gold. Barshim missed a large part of the 2018 season with an ankle injury, but returned to win gold at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.

“This is a dream I don't want to wake up from,” Barshim said on Sunday. “I have been through a lot. It's been five years that I have been waiting, with injuries and a lot of set-backs.”

“But we are here today sharing this moment and all the sacrifices. It's really worth it now in this moment,” he added.


Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
  • The 25-year-old left a strong field behind him as pre-race talk focused on battle between Kenyans and Ethiopians

A glorious run by Moroccan runner Soufiane El-Bakkali saw him win the gold medal in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Monday.

The 25-year-old, who finished fourth in this event at Rio 2016, won with a time of 8:08:90, ahead of Lamecha Grima of Ethiopia in second and Benjamin Kigen in third.

Before the final, all the talk had focused on the fact that no Ethiopian had ever won this event at the Olympics, while the Kenyans had won every 3000m Steeplechase gold medal since Los Angeles 1984.

But the Moroccan proved to be the ace in the pack, in the end comfortably stretching away from his opponents on the last lap and collapsing into tears at the finish line.

El-Bakkali had won the 3000m Steeplechase Heat 3 on Friday with a time of 8:19:00, ahead of Topi Raitanen of Finland and Alexis Phelut of France, who both qualified to the final.

Previously, he had won bronze in this event at the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Qatar and silver two years earlier in London.

The Moroccan will now turn his attentions to the Men’s 1500m Round 1 — Heat 3 (3:27 a.m. KSA).


Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
  • 25-year-old produced some of Saudi delegation’s most competitive performances of Olympics, but will miss out on Thursday’s final

RIYADH: Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin has been eliminated from the men’s 400 meters at Tokyo 2020 after on Monday finishing fourth in the second semifinal at the Japanese capital’s Olympic Stadium.

Despite a fine run that saw him post a time of 45.37 seconds, the 25-year-old will now miss out on Thursday’s final.

Michael Cherry of the US, and Christopher Taylor of Jamaica, finished first and second and will be in the field of eight vying for the medals on Thursday. Steven Solomon of Australia came in third, 0.22 of a second ahead of Al-Yassin.

 

 

Al-Yassin had produced a thrilling run when winning heat two at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday to progress to the following day’s semifinals against some of the world’s best short-distance runners. A personal best time of 45.16 seconds saw him finish ahead of Kevin Borlee of Belgium and Ricky Petrucciani of Switzerland.

The runner received his call-up to the Olympics on July 2, one of the last of Saudi Arabia’s 33 athletes to confirm his place in Tokyo.

His exit from the Games means that Tarek Hamdi, who will take part in the karate 75-kilogram category on Friday, is the last remaining Saudi at Tokyo 2020.