Top 10 moments for Arab athletes at Tokyo 2020

Top 10 moments for Arab athletes at Tokyo 2020
Ahmed Hafnaoui after winning gold in the 400m freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan, July 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 August 2021

Top 10 moments for Arab athletes at Tokyo 2020

Top 10 moments for Arab athletes at Tokyo 2020
  • From carrying flags to winning 18 medals, it has been an emotional Olympic Games in the Japanese capital

RIYADH: An incredible fortnight of sporting action in Tokyo has ended, with 18 medals scooped by Arab athletes. Here are the top 10 Arab moments witnessed at the Olympic Games.

1. Hafnaoui stuns the world

He was the slowest to make it through to the 400 meters freestyle final, but the fastest to touch the wall in the final and secure a stunning gold medal – 18-year-old Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui provided one of the biggest surprises of Tokyo 2020 when he won the race from lane eight.

He shaved nearly three seconds off his personal best during the Games and earned praise from the legendary American swimmer Michael Phelps.

2. Barshim’s gracious act of sportsmanship

After claiming high jump bronze in London 2012 and silver in Rio 2016, Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim finally topped the podium in Tokyo.

But even more memorable than his victory was how he and Italian Gianmarco Tamberi agreed to share the gold medal instead of going through a jump-off.

The two competitors and good friends helped each other through difficult times when they suffered the very same ankle injury that threatened their careers. So, when the pair each cleared 2.37 meters at the Tokyo Games and found themselves on the verge of entering a jump-off, Barshim looked to an official and asked: “Can we have two golds?” Seconds later, he and Tamberi shared a warm embrace, without even needing to vocalize what they were both thinking; that sharing gold was the perfect way for them to conclude their Tokyo experience.

It was an incredible act of sportsmanship and one of the most heart-warming moments of the Games.

3. Arab women shine in opening ceremony

When Yasmine Al-Dabbagh carried the flag alongside her compatriot Husein Alireza during the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020, the track sprinter became Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female flagbearer at an Olympic Games. But she was not alone as the only Arab woman given the honor.

Arab women athletes were front and center during this year’s opening ceremony as many nations from the region took advantage of the newly introduced initiative from the International Olympic Committee that allowed countries to nominate a man and a woman to carry the flag together to kick off proceedings in Tokyo.

Other Arab women flagbearers in the Japanese capital during the opening ceremony include Lebanese shooter Ray Bassil, Egyptian two-time taekwondo Olympic medalist Hedaya Malak, Tunisian fencer Ines Boubakri, Moroccan boxer Oumaima Bel Habib, Jordan’s Asian Games taekwondo champion Julyana Al-Sadeq, Qatari rower Tala Abujbara, 15-year-old Bahraini swimmer Noor Yusuf Abdulla, Algerian swimmer Amel Melih, 12-year-old table tennis player Hend Zaza of Syria, Sudanese rower Esraa Khogali, Yemeni shooter Yasameen Al-Raimi, 17-year-old Kuwaiti swimmer Lara Dashti, 17-year-old Palestinian swimmer Dania Nour, and Iraqi shooter Fatimah Al-Kaabi.

4. Asaad’s gift to Syria

Man Asaad brought some much-needed joy to his war-torn nation during Tokyo 2020. The 27-year-old weightlifter claimed Syria’s first Olympic medal in 17 years, and fourth in the Games, by taking bronze in the plus-109-kilogram competition in Tokyo.

Asaad overcame a right shoulder injury in the build-up to the Olympics and gave Syria only its second Olympic gold medal.

5. Hamedi’s dramatic silver medal

Saudi Arabian karateka Tareg Hamedi was leading 4-1 when his final kick sent his Iranian opponent Sajjad Ganjzadeh to the tatami in their kumite plus-75-kilogram gold-medal bout in Tokyo. But his high kick was later deemed illegal, and the 23-year-old had to settle for silver behind the multiple-time world champion.

Despite the heartbreaking finish, Hamedi can take huge pride from his strong campaign in the Japanese capital, which earned Saudi Arabia its fourth-ever Olympic medal.

In a tweet, Saudi minister of sport and president of the Saudi Olympic Committee, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, said: “Because he is the hero in the eyes of all of us, our Olympic champion Tareq Hamedi will be honored with the gold medal award, worth 5 million riyals, for his excellence, creativity, and honorable representation of the homeland in front of the world’s biggest stars in Tokyo 2020. You deserve it, hero, and the future is in front of you.”

6. Feryal’s historic gold for Egypt

Karate’s introduction to the Tokyo 2020 Games spelled great news for Egypt, as Feryal Abdelaziz’s heroics in the kumite plus-61-kilogram class gifted the north African nation its first gold medal since 2004.

And Abdelaziz’s triumph made her Egypt’s first-ever female Olympic gold medalist.

“This is the result of four years of hard work, not just one or two. I was under a lot of pressure, mentally and physically, but it was all worth it to make something special for Egypt,” said the 22-year-old.

Fellow Egyptian Giana Farouk – a multiple-time world champion – claimed bronze in 61-kg action a day earlier.

7. El-Bakkali snaps Kenya’s streak

Moroccan track athlete Soufiane El-Bakkali ended Kenya’s 37-year dominance of the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Olympics to take gold in Tokyo.

Kenyans had won every single gold in the event since Los Angeles 1984 before El-Bakkali’s triumph last week.

The runner’s victory was Morocco’s sole medal at the Japanese Games, and its first gold since 2004.

8. Zaza’s message of hope

At 12 years old, Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza was not only her nation’s flagbearer, but the youngest competitor in the entire Tokyo 2020 Games.

Although her campaign was short-lived, having lost her opener to Austria’s 39-year-old Liu Jia, Zaza sent out an inspirational message after making her Olympics debut.

She said: “For the last five years I’ve been through many different experiences, especially when there was the war happening around the country, with the postponement with funding for the Olympics, and it was very tough.

“But I had to fight for it, and this is my message to everyone who wishes to have the same situation. Fight for your dreams, try hard, regardless of the difficulties that you’re having, and you will reach your goal.”

9. Malak doubles up

After claiming bronze in the below-57-kilogram category in taekwondo in Rio 2016, Hedaya Malak moved up a weight class, to below 67 kilograms, spent 18 months living in Serbia in order to have access to better training conditions, and qualified for Tokyo 2020 while competing with an injured ankle.

In Tokyo, Malak made history as Egypt’s first-ever female flagbearer then claimed a second Olympic bronze to become just the fifth athlete from her country to win multiple medals at the Games.

Egypt ended up with six medals in total, the nation’s highest ever tally at a single Games.

10. El-Bakh sets Olympic records

Egyptian-born weightlifter Fares El-Bakh did not just claim Qatar’s first-ever Olympic gold medal, he set two Olympic records in the process with 225 kilograms in the clean and jerk and a combined score of 402.

The 23-year-old said: “I feel great, incredible. We worked hard for it. We went so far to get this, and it feels better than ever. I am literally speechless about that (getting the first gold for Qatar). I hope that they are proud of me.

“I promise this is not the end, we still have more and more coming soon. We will do our best to make it even better,” he added.

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium
Updated 4 sec ago

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium
YAOUNDE: The Cameroonian government wants to “improve” access to the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde after the deadly stampede that killed eight people at the Africa Cup of Nations on Monday, its spokesman told state media on Thursday.
A child and two women were among the victims, who were trampled by the crowd at the south gate of the stadium as they attempted to enter the stadium where hosts Cameroon were playing Comoros. Another 38 were injured.
“We are going to try to see if it is not possible to use other routes which would serve Olembe so that everyone does not use the same route,” Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the government’s Minister of Communication, told CRTV and state-owned newspaper Cameroon Tribune.
“The prime minister has asked us to think about it and the general delegation for national security (police) will work to do so, so that access to the stadium is improved.”
Sadi said the traffic around the Olembe Stadium was “hellish” and that the government wanted to “improve” the system that was already in place.
African football supremo Patrice Motsepe on Tuesday said it was “inexplicable” that an entry gate had remained closed, contributing to the crush.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to be, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president said at a press conference.
The quarter-final that was due to be played at the Olembe Stadium was switched to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, also in Yaounde.
“The next match that was scheduled for the Olembe Stadium will not take place until CAF and the Local Organizing Committee have received the full report of the Investigation Committee (into the Olembe incident) indicating the circumstances and events that led to the injury and death of spectators at the Olembe Stadium,” CAF said in a statement on Wednesday.
Motsepe has demanded that the first conclusions of the investigation should be submitted to CAF by Friday at the latest.

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
Updated 27 January 2022

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
  • After completing their own training, Eddie Howe’s players put aspiring footballers through their paces at Al-Ittihad’s training ground in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Members of Newcastle United’s squad on Wednesday took part in a training session at Al-Ittihad club, after which they held drills for aspiring footballers from Saudi Arabia’s Mahd Academy.

The club are currently on a warm-weather training camp in Jeddah as they do not have a Premier League match this weekend.

Eddie Howe’s team will take part in a training match against Al-Ittihad on Friday behind closed doors, before heading back to the UK the following day.

The session began with stretching and fitness exercises for a period of 20 minutes, after which the players did some running around the training pitch, before moving onto ball practice.

After concluding their own training, the Newcastle players put some of Mahd Academy’s talented youngsters through their paces with technical exercises such as one-touch possession play and long-distance shooting.

The players ended the afternoon by signing shirts and posing for photos with the youngsters.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Updated 27 January 2022

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Further 8 members of world’s top 20 will take part including 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, semifinalists Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov

DUBAI: Novak Djokovic will head a strong line-up of the world’s best next month when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships men’s tournament celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Among those joining the five-time Dubai champion and world No. 1 will be a further eight members of the top 20, presenting an intriguing mix of exciting young talent and experienced veterans, including Dubai 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, 2021 semifinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov, and former champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We are thrilled to welcome so many top players to our 30th-year celebrations of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. We are delighted to see Novak back in Dubai for the 12th time when he will be seeking his sixth title and we wish him the best of luck.”

Karatsev has continued to impress following his remarkable run in Dubai, a week that saw him defeat Lloyd Harris to claim the first Association of Tennis Professionals title of his career. He went on to defeat Djokovic to reach the final in Belgrade, which he surrendered to Matteo Berrettini in a final-set tiebreak. Later in 2021, he earned a second career title with victory over Marin Cilic in Moscow and began the 2022 season by beating Andy Murray in the Sydney final to win title number three.

Rublev will be among those who, along with Djokovic and Karatsev, will also be a strong contender for the title. Although he fell last year in a thrilling semifinal to fellow Russian and eventual champion Karatsev, he enjoyed a successful season.

After being a member of the victorious Russian team at the ATP Cup and then claiming the Rotterdam title shortly before arriving in Dubai, he went on to finish as runner-up in Monte Carlo where he earned a rare clay court victory over Rafael Nadal. His 2021 season then finished on a triumphant note as his four wins in five matches guided Russia to victory in the Davis Cup.

Shapovalov last year fell in Dubai to rising star Harris, but he can still look back on a wonderful year that saw him reach the Wimbledon semifinals in a run that included victory over former champion Murray, runner-up finishes in Geneva and Stockholm, and a further semifinal at Queens’s Club. He has also begun the 2022 season on a positive note, helping Canada to victory in the ATP Cup.

Among others to watch are another Canadian, current world No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, and the unpredictable and often brilliant Gael Monfils.

Auger-Aliassime will be making his Dubai debut after beginning 2022 by entering the world’s top 10 for the first time following his success with compatriot Shapovalov in winning the ATP Cup, and a 2021 season that saw him contest the finals of a pre-Australian Open event in Melbourne and Stuttgart, whilst also reaching the semifinals of the US Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Sinner’s outstanding 2021 season propelled him into the top 10 as he claimed titles in Melbourne, Washington, Sofia, and Antwerp as well as a place in the Miami final, before finishing the year with three victories in the Davis Cup. This year he was in form again as he represented Italy in the ATP Cup, winning all three of his matches to kick off his new season.

Monfils is one of the game’s greatest entertainers and has enjoyed considerable success in Dubai, reaching the semifinals in 2019 where he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a three-hour thriller that finished in a final-set tiebreak, and then again in 2020 when he stretched Djokovic to three sets.

Tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said: “We can once more look forward to two weeks of fantastic tennis as we not only enjoy the 30th-year celebrations of the ATP Tour event, but an incredible line-up of talent in the preceding WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) 500 tournament that features nine of the world’s top 10 and 17 of the top 20 women players, including no less than five previous Dubai winners all returning to one of their favorite tournaments.”

The tournament begins with the 22nd edition of the WTA event which takes place between Feb. 14 and 19, and then continues from Feb. 21 to 26 with the 30th anniversary staging of the men’s ATP Tour 500 tournament.

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
Updated 27 January 2022

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
  • The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes

MELBOURNE: A ruthless Ashleigh Barty swept into her first Australian Open final on Thursday with the top seed outgunning a resurgent Madison Keys in a clinical, straight-sets demolition.
The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes to set up showdown against either Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek or American 27th seed Danielle Collins.
Barty is the first Australian woman into the decider of her home Grand Slam since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and is aiming to become the first winner since Chris O’Neil two years earlier.
She is also looking to add to her 2020 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon 2021 titles, with the top seed on an ominous 10-match win streak to start the year.
“Honestly, it’s just incredible. I’m just happy I get to play my best tennis here,” said Barty, who is assured of retaining her world number one ranking even if she loses the final.
“The ball was a little slower tonight, heavier off the strings. I just tried to run and adapt, make as many balls as I could and keep Maddie under the pump on her serve because she has the ability to really take it away from you quickly.”
Barty paid tribute to Keys, a former top-10 player who is on the rise again after difficult couple of years.
“It’s just so nice to see her back where she belongs,” said Barty. “She’s an amazing human being.”
Barty has been unassailable in Melbourne, dropping her serve just once through six matches and is yet to drop a set.
And the top seed, who played cricket with her team on Wednesday to relax, was once more in full command of her game with an attacking forehand and lethal backhand slice.
Facing Barty on her home turf was an unenviable assignment for 26-year-old Keys, but she came into the game on a 10-match win streak, the best run of her career.
The Australian, though, immediately pressured her serve to create a break point that she converted with a cross-court winner to assert early control.
She consolidated with a serve to love as Keys struggled to get her racquet on the ball before the American gained confidence with a hold for 1-2.
The American was broken again in the fifth game, as her unforced error count mounted.
She finally won her first points on the Barty serve in the next game and gained a break point when Barty sent a looping forehand long. But the Australian saved it with an ace and stormed 5-1 in front.
Keys’ first double fault handed Barty two set points and she slammed a forehand return to take the set in just 26 minutes.
Keys had beaten top 10 players Paula Badosa and Barbora Krejcikova back-to-back to make the last four and was more composed as her nerves settled in set two.
It went with serve to 2-2 before Keys worked a break point in the fifth game only to be denied by a Barty volley, before the Australian held.
Barty then stepped up a gear in the next game, earning three break points. Keys saved two before a passing shot put her 4-2 clear and there was no way back for the American.

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 27 January 2022

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations
  • The Tunisians stunned favorites Nigeria while Egypt and Morocco will now meet in the quarter-finals

The second round of the African Cup of Nations was a good one for Arab teams and below are five things learned by Arab News.

1. Gabaski should share Salah’s headlines as Egypt squeeze through

Egypt have now scored only two goals in 390 minutes of football in the tournament but find themselves in the last eight after a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Ivory Coast after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

This was no snoozefest, however, but a close and tense contest between two teams who both had chances. Ivory Coast grew stronger in the last quarter of the 90 minutes and the game seemed to shift in their favor just before the end of normal time as Egypt’s goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy went down injured.

It was telling that Carlos Queiroz obviously did not want to make the substitution but on came Mohamed Abou Gabal, also known as “Gabaski,” and it was almost inevitable that the Zamalek goalkeeper, who had barely played for the national team despite being 32, would star or flop. He made the only save of the shootout, and it was a fantastic stop from Manchester United’s Eric Bailly. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah came to take the last spot kick with the coolness and skill that fans have come to expect, but at least some of the headlines should be about Egypt’s number two.

2. Hakimi shining brightest of Eurostars so far

The Atlas Lions have moved quietly into the last eight and that is the way they will like it. The reward for strolling through the group stage was a second-round tie against Malawi, a team ranked 101 places lower by FIFA, all the way down at 129, and they won 2-1.

The Flames gave Morocco a scare, however, and took the lead after just seven minutes with a spectacular long-range strike. It was a bolt of lightning from nowhere and it woke the North Africans well and truly up, though it took them a while to get going.

Well before the break, however, Morocco had found their stride and were starting to create chances, and it was no surprise when they levelled on the stroke of half-time. They picked up at the start of the second half where they had finished and kept their focus on concentration, and were rewarded with a great free-kick winner from Achraf Hakimi.

The Paris Saint-Germain star had an excellent game and caused all kinds of problems down the right side. Of all the big Euro-based stars in the tournament, Hakimi has probably been the best so far, and if he continues to shine then Morocco can go all the way.

3. Tunisia come alive against Nigeria

Tunisia defeated Nigeria 1-0 but there was much more to it than that. Nigeria had been the best performer in the group stage and, to put it politely, Tunisia were not and only made it by being one of the best third-placed teams. With the Super Eagles winning all three of their games and the Carthage Eagles winning just one, Nigeria were strong favorites, especially as the North Africans had been hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak and were missing a number of players as well as their coach.

Yet Tunisia won. They had not impressed at all previously but found a solid performance from somewhere to book a winnable quarter-final against Burkina Faso. The 2004 champions have already shown they can dig deep when needed, and if they can find a little more fluency going forward then they could go all the way. Much depends on what condition the players who caught COVID-19 are in. If they have fully recovered then Tunisia will have a fresh squad going into the pointy end of the tournament.

4. Despite ending, Comoros can be proud

Football rightly retreats into insignificance when there is a human tragedy such as the eight people who died in a stadium stampede after Cameroon had defeated Comoros 2-1.

During the tournament, however, the islanders showed that they can be a force to be reckoned with. In their first appearance at this stage, they have met some real powerhouses of African football — Ghana, Morocco, Gabon and Cameroon — and they have not looked out of place at all.

Going into the second round clash with the host, Comoros were expected to be thrashed, especially after a COVID-19 outbreak meant that the debutants were without a recognized goalkeeper and fullback Chaker Alhadhur had to put on the gloves. Then, after just seven minutes, the influential Nadjim Abdou was sent off. Despite all the problems, Comoros took the 1990 World Cup quarter-finalists all the way and ended up losing by a single goal.

5. Algeria will still be kicking themselves

Nobody will need reminding that the defending champions exited the tournament by finishing bottom of their group with just one point and one goal. There have been the expected comments from the stars of the team such as Riyad Mahrez that they will come back stronger from the experience and focus on qualifying for the World Cup in March and then doing well in Qatar, assuming they get past Cameroon.

If any fans in the country can bring themselves to watch the Algeria-less AFCON then they will surely be thinking that this is a tournament there for the taking. There has not yet been a team to really stand out so far with everyone looking like they can beat everyone else. In short, had Algeria shown a fairly small percentage of their potential then they would still be very much in the running and the team to beat. The standards of yet have not been anything to write home about though as Algeria are also home, there is little they can do about it.