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.