Farida Osman inspires a generation of Arab female athletes as she eyes glory at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Exclusive Farida Osman inspires a generation of Arab female athletes as she eyes glory at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
Farida Osman has established herself as the fastest swimmer in Africa and the Arab World. (Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia)
Short Url
Updated 08 December 2021

Farida Osman inspires a generation of Arab female athletes as she eyes glory at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Farida Osman inspires a generation of Arab female athletes as she eyes glory at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • The 26-year-old Egyptian, who is one of the ambassadors of the competition, has firmly established herself as the fastest female swimmer in Africa and the Arab world
  • From an early age, the 26-year-old realized she was swimming for more than just herself, as she made history for an entire region with every new milestone she hit in the pool

The first time I saw Farida Osman in action, she was 16 years old and was obliterating the field at the 2011 Pan Arab Games in Doha, clinching seven gold medals in the pool and making it look easy in the process.

A decade later, the Egyptian has firmly established herself as the fastest female swimmer in Africa and the Arab world and is the only athlete from her nation to ever make the podium at the FINA World Swimming Championships, snagging bronze in both 2017 and 2019 in the 50m butterfly.

The three-time Olympian holds the African record in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly in long course, as well as the 50m freestyle and 50m and 100m butterfly in short course.

A trailblazer for women’s sports in the region, Osman arrives in Abu Dhabi next week as one of the faces of the upcoming FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), set to take place at Etihad Arena from Dec. 16-21.

Inspiring a region

From an early age, the 26-year-old realized she was swimming for more than just herself, as she made history for an entire region with every new milestone she hit in the pool.

“Honestly, I think my main purpose is just to inspire people, especially women at a young age, to pursue not only swimming but sports in general,” Osman told Arab News in a phone interview last week.

“I feel like swimming and sports give you so much more than just medals and achievements. They give you a healthy lifestyle. You learn stuff about yourself like strengths and weaknesses, discipline, and all these things will help you eventually in your life.

“Our region isn’t really big on swimming for females, so I personally want to defy those odds and break the stereotype that says that women, when they reach a certain age, cannot do sports or cannot swim.

“I want to always inspire others to do that and hopefully my journey, with its ups and downs, will show that while it’s not an easy road, it’s worth it.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Farida Osman (@farida_osman)

Whatever it takes

It certainly has not been an easy road for Osman. The Cairene went to great lengths to fulfill her dreams, starting with her move to the US as a teenager to study and swim at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sharing a Cal Bears roster with the likes of five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, Osman thrived during her university years, setting school records, clinching NCAA titles and putting Egypt on the world swimming map along the way.

Her successful college experience, coupled with her history-making performances at global meets, sparked a swimming revolution back home, as scores of swimmers decided to follow suit and accept athletic scholarships for top swimming programs at universities in the US.

“I think just by going there, being myself and showing that I could still be an Egyptian girl even living away from home is what encouraged other Egyptians, men and women, from a young age to go to the US for university because, honestly, it does give you the best of both worlds,” explained Osman.

“In Egypt, when we reach a certain age, unfortunately, we have to choose either sports or academics because it’s so hard to balance both. But the best thing in the US is that everything is on campus, everything is tailored toward you, and you have the resources to help you to perform your best in both swimming and academics.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Farida Osman (@farida_osman)

‘Toughest two years of my life’

After spending five years training at Berkeley, Osman felt like she needed a change and wanted to make the most out of the two-year period in the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

With the main goal of improving her 100 fly, Osman moved to Blacksburg, Virginia to train under Spanish coach Sergio Lopez. She was warned it would be a difficult transition, leaving sunny California behind and the relationships she built there in favor of training under Lopez in a relatively remote setting, but Osman was willing to do whatever it took to be ready for the Olympic Games.

“Mentally, I wasn’t really prepared for how challenging it was going to be outside of swimming,” admitted Osman, who described her time ahead of Tokyo as the “toughest two years” of her life in swimming.

The Egyptian explained how the postponement of the Games due to the pandemic hit her hard, and the challenge of having no social life in Virginia that would help her recharge between training was not easy to navigate.

Traveling to new places and meeting new people at competitions, which she said was the fun thing about being a professional swimmer, was not possible because of the pandemic, and she was mentally drained by the time the postponed Olympics came along. A glitch during the taper before the Games also did not help.

“The build-up — physical, mental, emotional — means that you’re ready to perform, you’re literally like a machine ready to explode. Up to 2020, everything in my life was on hold and I was just focusing on swimming,” said Osman.

“I personally recharge from being social, going out with my friends, having a nice dinner. Because there was nothing to do during the two years in Virginia, I felt like I was always on low battery. I wasn’t even mentally recharging.

“So, I think that was the hardest part. Instead of mentally preparing to compete then, in 2020, I had to extend it for another year in a location that was really hard to be at in the first place. And with the pandemic, there were no breaks; I was just stuck in one place.”

Returning to her roots

The Tokyo Olympics did not go according to plan, and Osman took a month off upon returning to Cairo in August to recover and reset. It was the longest break she had ever taken from swimming, and it allowed her to reconnect with family and friends.

Instead of returning to the US, Osman decided she needed to stay at home after eight years of living abroad. She has been training solo in Cairo, working with Egyptian coach Sherif Habib with some consultation from her coaches in the US.

“I just wanted to be home, especially after a really hard two years,” said Osman.

Training in Egypt naturally has its pros and cons. Besides being close to family, Osman is benefitting from having practices that are tailored to her needs as opposed to those of a larger group of swimmers. But her current situation can also feel like a lonely experience at times.

“That’s the worst part. If I stay here, I have to be okay with the fact that I’m going to train alone. Sadly, there isn’t anyone I can actually train with here, girls or boys,” she said.

‘I’m really honored’

When she got the call from FINA about being named an ambassador for the World Championships in Abu Dhabi, Osman was reminded of how much she has given the sport and the role she has played in vitalizing swimming in the region.

“I’m really honored. It was really nice, especially given that it came after Tokyo. It reminded me that what happened in Tokyo does not define your whole career,” said Osman.  

“I’ve done so much for this sport and so much for Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, this region, and I feel like being an ambassador was just proof that I’m so much more than what happened in Tokyo.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by FINA (@fina1908)

Reigniting the spark

Osman is approaching these championships “pressure-free” and is on a journey to rediscover her passion for the sport more than a decade after she was crowned a junior world champion in the 50m butterfly in Lima, Peru.

“I’m just doing this for myself. I know I can do so much better than what I did in Tokyo, so I feel like this is a way to prove to myself that it was a mishap and something just went wrong and it’s not like I’m no longer a good swimmer. So, this is something that I’m excited about,” she said.

“I’m taking this year to just focus on myself. I want to just swim for myself. I want to enjoy it again. I want to feel happy that I’m swimming again.”

Osman’s biggest crowning moments were her World Championship medals in Budapest 2017 and Gwangju 2019. On both occasions, she shared the 50 fly podium with Olympic and world champions Sarah Sjostrom and Ranomi Kromowidjojo and proved she belonged among the very best on one of the sport’s grandest stages.

“I feel like 2019 was definitely harder for me. Emotionally, I just felt the pressure of the expectation,” she recalled.

“It was a moment for me just to remember that now I’ve become part of something bigger than myself. It’s not just me swimming for myself; now I feel like there’s a whole world behind me. In 2019, as happy as I was to get the medal again, it was twice as hard.”

Looking ahead, Osman is hoping to get back to swimming personal best times as she builds toward next year’s long course FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. She is not contemplating retirement just yet but feels like she wants to end her career on a high.

“I feel like I haven’t swum best times in a really long time. So, I think just getting there would definitely be an achievement for me. And obviously, when I go a best time, I’m looking at medals and finals and stuff like that. But I think once you focus on your time, the rest just takes care of itself,” she concluded.

Farida Osman will be swimming the 50m and 100m butterfly and freestyle events in Abu Dhabi.


Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off
Updated 11 sec ago

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off
  • There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain

MADRID: Real Madrid are hoping a summer of stability sets them up for a successful defense of the Spanish title as the season kicks off in La Liga this weekend, despite some eye-catching moves in the transfer market from Barcelona.

Madrid set the ball rolling on Wednesday against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup, as they target another trophy-laden campaign under Carlo Ancelotti following their league and Champions League double last season.

There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain.

Yet there have been no significant departures either, with the influence of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo having dramatically declined before they were all released.

That means Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, who turns 37 in September, will remain hugely influential.

Ancelotti can also expect the influence of the likes of Vinicius — whose goal won May’s Champions League final against Liverpool — Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga to increase this season.

And two significant signings have arrived.

France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, 22, has joined from Monaco for a fee of up to €100 million ($102m), while Germany center-back Antonio Rudiger, 29, joins on a free from Chelsea.

“I believe we’ve got two players who are among the best in the world in their role,” Ancelotti told UEFA.com.

“Their quality increases the team’s physical and technical ability.”

Real were champions by 13 points from Barcelona, and it would have been more had the Catalans not improved enormously in the second half of last season.

Xavi Hernandez has already made a big impact as coach at the Camp Nou and a raft of new recruits headed by Robert Lewandowski could help them bridge the gap to their bitter rivals.

Leeds United winger Raphinha and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie have also joined, while the defense should be greatly improved by the signings of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.

The problem is that, by the start of this week, Barca had still not been able to register their new recruits because they had not raised enough money to comply with spending restrictions imposed on the club by La Liga.

That is despite Barcelona’s board selling off assets, including 25 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros.

Twenty-five percent of their domestic television rights for quarter of a century have been sold to US investment fund Sixth Street for 400 million euros.

Those deals are on top of a sponsorship agreement with Spotify, and on Tuesday it was reported in Spain that Barcelona would sell another 25 percent of Barca Studios to an investment fund for 100 million euros in a bid to satisfy La Liga.

The club have also been pressuring midfielder Frenkie de Jong to leave in order to dispose of his salary.

There may be concerns about the long-term consequences of these deals for a club with reported debts of 1.3 billion euros, but if they can register the new recruits then they could also be a real force to be reckoned with.

“We have generated a lot of hopeful anticipation. We have lots of hope too,” admitted Xavi. “Our objective this year is to win titles and play good football.”

If Barcelona cannot close the gap to Real then it appears unlikely anyone else can, with Atletico Madrid not looking significantly stronger than last year, when they finished third.

Luis Suarez has returned to his native Uruguay and Antoine Griezmann’s form is uncertain, although Axel Witsel reinforces their midfield and Argentine international Nahuel Molina adds quality at right-back.

On top of that, they still have Diego Simeone.

Sevilla came fourth last season, securing Champions League qualification at the expense of city rivals Real Betis, who won the Copa del Rey.

While Sevilla have signed Isco, they have lost two outstanding center-backs, with Kounde departing and Diego Carlos going to Aston Villa.

It was notable that the latter preferred to join a mid-table Premier League club rather than stay and play in the Champions League.

That reflected English football’s pulling power, while Goncalo Guedes, Valencia’s top scorer last season, has gone to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Saudi-owned Almeria are back in La Liga after seven years, with Real Valladolid and Girona the other newly-promoted teams.


Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport
Updated 09 August 2022

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport
  • On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June
  • The 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career

LONDON: Serena Williams said on Tuesday that she is “evolving away from tennis” as she detailed her upcoming retirement from the sport that she dominated for the majority of her career with 23 singles Grand Slam titles.
On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June after a year-long absence from competition, beating Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz to reach the second round of the Toronto Open.
But the 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career before suggesting the US Open starting this month could be her swansong.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” Williams wrote in a Vogue article.
“It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people.
“Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.
“A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
Williams won her last Grand Slam in 2017 and has been chasing an elusive 24th crown that will draw her level with Margaret Court who holds the record for most majors.
She came tantalisingly close to achieving that feat, featuring in four major finals since giving birth to daughter Olympia in 2017.
“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT (greatest of all time) because I didn’t pass Court’s record, which she achieved before the ‘Open era’ that began in 1968,” former world number one Williams said.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Slam final, then yes, I’m thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.”
Williams later talked in an Instagram post about the time to move in a “different direction.”
“That time is always hard when you love something so much,” she added. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis.
“But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”


Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes
Updated 09 August 2022

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes
  • Emirati ace vows to fight back from Polish setback and tips team-mate for the top

ABU DHABI: Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi has set his sights on victory in the Grand Prix of Lithuania at the weekend to revive his hopes of a fourth UIM F2 World Championship crown.

The Emirati driver is determined to shrug off last month’s setback in Poland when a race error from one of the backmarkers put him out this season’s opening round.

“A similar thing happened to me in the first Grand Prix last season, and I still came through to take the title,” said the Emirati driver, ahead of Sunday’s second round of the championship in Kupiskis.

“I believe I still have a good chance this time. I have a brand new boat which is very good for me. I would have won in Poland but for a mistake by another driver, but that’s behind me now and I’m aiming for a win in Lithuania.”

Mansoor Al-Mansoori’s second place in Augustow behind Germany’s Stefan Hagin underlined his own credentials, and Al-Qemzi believe his Abu Dhabi team-mate can do well in this championship.

“Mansoor is improving all the time, and he has a great future in F2,” he said. “The management at Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club choose the best to represent the team, and Mansoor has what it takes to get to the top.”

Holding second place in the F2 championship, Al-Mansoori is prepared for another big challenge in Kupiskis in the boat which took Al-Qemzi to the world title last year.

“The result in Poland has given me a lot of confidence,” Al-Mansoori said. “It showed that I can compete with the guys at the top in F2, and motivates me to fight for another good result in Lithuania.

“My focus is to finish in a good position. I’m still fairly new to F2, still building and gaining experience. I want to support Rashed, and at the same time follow his steps, and it’s an honor to be driving the boat of the three-times world champion.”

The Team Abu Dhabi duo are in a strong field of 21 boats assembling in Kupiskis, where Lithuania’s Edgaras Riabko is aiming to complete back-to-back wins in his home event.

After a Saturday afternoon qualifying session, the F2 boats will contest an evening match race event before the Grand Prix of Lithuania gets under way.


Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
Updated 09 August 2022

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • Mohammed Tolo second in shot put and Ali Al-Khadrawi third in table tennis
  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the federation, proud of performances

Saudi Arabia claimed two more medals at the Islamic Solidarity Games, in shot put and table tennis, on Monday in Turkey.

This comes ahead of the tournament’s official opening ceremony in Konya, on Tuesday night.

President of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who also serves as president of Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, was in attendance on Monday as Mohammed Tolo claimed silver for Saudi Arabia in the shot put with a throw of 20.12 meters.

Saudi’s second medal of the day came from Ali Al-Khadrawi who took bronze in the individual table tennis competition, having lost 4-1 in the semifinals to Iran’s Amir Hussein.

Al-Khadrawi had reached the last four with a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Turkey’s Abdullah Talha.

The Kingdom’s overall medal tally at Konya 2022 now stands at three (one silver and two bronze).

Meanwhile, Saudi’s U-23 team defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in their opening match of the football competition, the winning goal coming from Ahmed Al-Ghamdi’s 95th-minute penalty.

The athletics competition saw two Saudi runners reach the final of the 400-meter race, with Mazen Al-Yassin winning Heat 2 in 45.94 seconds, while Yousef Masrahi finished second in Heat 1 with a time of 45.95.

Mohammed Al-Maawi qualified for the final of the 400 hurdles, by finishing third in the heats in 50.84.

Abdullah Abkar qualified for the semifinals of the 100 sprint by coming second in Heat 2 in a time of 10.06.

In the final of the men’s 5000, Tariq Al-Omari finished sixth with a time of 13 minutes, 95.05 seconds, while Yasmine Al-Dabbagh came sixth in the women’s 100 qualifiers in 12.81. It was a personal best for the Saudi Olympian, whose previous record stood at 12.90.

In the Paralympic swimming competition, Ibrahim Al-Marzouki, already winner of a bronze in the 50-meter butterfly, finished fourth in the 200 freestyle final with a time of 4:39.21, the same position as Saudi colleague Turki Al-Harbi in the 200 medley (2:54.73).


Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race
Updated 09 August 2022

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race
  • ‘Some people laughed but look how far we’ve come’
  • Maserati, McLaren and ABT on next year’s grid is mark of success

Formula E’s co-founder and chief championship officer Alberto Longo is happy to have proved people wrong as the championship prepares to host its 100th race this Sunday.

South Korean capital Seoul will stage the double-header season finale rounds on Aug. 13 and 14 with Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne sitting at the top of the drivers’ standings and a firm favorite to clinch his first Formula E title.

Since the inaugural race was held in Beijing in 2014, Longo has been among the key figures in helping the Formula E Championship grow and says he and his team are “super proud” of the manner in which its presence has increased worldwide.

“I am so proud of what we are today compared to what we were when the first race was held. I remember when we first had the idea of this competition. Some people laughed about the venture we were thinking about, and now look how far we have come.

“I can only remember those first days where there were some brave people who put in their efforts and believed in what we were doing. There are a lot of people that we have to thank, as we are here because of them. We now have a World Championship with spectacular races around the world, in some of the most amazing cities, with fantastic teams as well as an excellent line-up of drivers.”

“Today, you are not talking about the future anymore — we’re talking about the present and what is happening today. Overall, I’m super proud of what we have achieved but this is only the tip of the iceberg — and there is a lot more to come.”

Longo believes Formula E will continue to go from strength to strength as it enters a new era with the introduction of the Gen 3 cars next season. He insists the new additions of popular car manufacturers Maserati, McLaren and ABT on next year’s grid is a prime example of Formula E’s success and revealed there is no shortage of interest when it comes to the cities that want to be part of future Formula E season calendars.

“There are many manufacturers that come and go and that happens in every championship, but we do have the power to attract new manufacturers and that is a fact,” Longo said.

“This year, we have three new teams with Maserati, McLaren, and ABT. That is fantastic because in just a single year, it shows how we can attract such big names in motorsport.

“It’s not just from car manufacturers’ perspectives, but also with new cities. We are dealing with more than 100 cities on a yearly basis that want to host an event in Formula E — and that is way different to how it was during the earlier stages of when Formula E had just been launched.”