Saudi Olympic hero Tarek Hamdi recalls golden year after success at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Exclusive Tarek Hamdi claimed Karate gold for Saudi at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey. (Supplied/SOPC)
Tarek Hamdi claimed Karate gold for Saudi at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey. (Supplied/SOPC)
Short Url
Updated 21 August 2022

Saudi Olympic hero Tarek Hamdi recalls golden year after success at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Saudi Olympic hero Tarek Hamdi recalls golden year after success at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • The karate champion speaks exclusively to Arab News about his latest gold medal in Konya, his memorable performance at Tokyo 2020 and words of support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Olympic hero Tarek Hamdi continues to make history.

Last week, the karate champion dominated a strong field to take gold in the 75 kg kumite competition at the fifth Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey.

The triumph came almost exactly a year after his silver at Tokyo 2020, when he was only denied gold after a controversial disqualification in the final against Iran’s Sajjad Ganjzadeh.

Arab News met Hamdi to discuss his latest win and recall those memorable, career-defining days in Tokyo.

Congratulations Tarek, tell us about your achievement and the tournament in general.

Praise be to God, I achieved a gold medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey. It is a great achievement, and I am certainly proud and honored to raise the flag of the Kingdom at this tournament, where I hadn’t won before.

This is the second time that I participated in the Islamic Solidarity Games. In 2017, I took part in Baku, Azerbaijan, but did not achieve any success, and this time I was determined  to win gold. I managed to win in the 84 kg weight division to complete the set of medals at the international competitions I’ve taken part in.

This tournament in general is a very difficult and tough one, especially in karate. We had a target of five golds across the weight categories, but we only achieved a gold and two bronzes. I congratulate my brothers Sultan Al-Zahrani and Saud Al-Bashir on their success, and wish the best of luck to Faraj Al-Nashiri and Fahd Al-Khathami in the future.

Our achievement came thanks to the hard work and teamwork from everyone at the training camps of the Saudi Karate Federation and the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and we will continue, God willing, to pursue more triumphs.

A few days ago, it was the anniversary of your silver at the Tokyo Olympics. Tell us about the pre-tournament preparations.

To be honest, before the Olympics, I was nervous, not because of the tournament itself, but because after we had finished the pre-Games qualifying competition in Paris, I had not trained for almost a week or 10 days.

I was anxious, which is normal for any athlete. You’re eager to get back in action, especially when a big championship is so close. I said this to the coach, and he assured me: “Don’t worry, I’m sure in three or four days maximum you will be back in form.”

Ahead of the tournament, the coach, Mounir Afkir, and I had met to plan for the training camp for the Olympics. I told the coach that I will turn up and give everything I have in training. The rest, like exercise planning, schedules and scouting of opponents, I trust him with.




Saudi's Tarek Hamdi on his way to winning gold in Konya. (Supplied/SOPC)

Initially, our schedule consisted of two to three hours of physical exercise each morning, and then every two days would have two hours where we would analyze our nine opponents, studying their style, their strengths and weaknesses, and their game plans. We worked on solutions for all these things.

After that, we would go into the karate exercises for about two and a half to three hours. At the start of the camp, I was suffering from fatigue, frankly. I was training hard, and I kept telling myself that it will be worth it in the end, that any fatigue now will eventually be to my benefit. When I was tired, I would feel satisfied and my confidence would increase at the same time, and my focus was to achieve Olympic gold.

A week before traveling to Japan, coach Mounir told me: “I am seeing the gold medal.” I told him that I had been seeing the gold for a while and was confident in my abilities to achieve it, and that the coach’s words and trust had raised my confidence further to do so.

How did you feel the day before the start of your Olympic participation?

The night before the start of the Olympic karate competition on Aug. 6,  I could hardly sleep at all. I managed about two hours and I was so tired that I kept it a secret from the coach, and drank a lot of coffee in order to regain my energy. But I couldn’t and instead had a headache on the day of the matches. There were also suspicions that we had mixed with players who had tested positive (for COVID-19). The concerns proved unfounded but the situation had caused confusion for me, and we were isolated in a warm-up hall separate from other athletes. But we overcame this issue and the warm-up exercises were good and our confidence was high.

The group matches started uncomfortably, how did you feel at that point?

My first match was against a Croatian fighter (Ivan Kvesic), and when I got on the mat, I literally do not know what happened. Although I was not cautious in my approach, the result ended 2-1 in his favor. I couldn’t see properly, and after the fight my coach left me to my own thoughts. I felt really tired, but said to myself  “I did not come here to lose.”

I promised myself that I would return with the gold medal, and I turned this loss turned into a positive in my next match (a win against Brian Irr of the US).

Next, against the Iranian opponent (Ganjzadeh), the match ended in a draw. My Canadian opponent (Daniel Gaysinsky) was then eliminated and I qualified from my group in second place to face the Japanese (Ryutaro Araga) in the semifinals.




Supplied/SOPC

After qualifying from the group stages, what were your plans as a player and coach?

Before the semifinal, our game plan changed. We started planning for each opponent in different ways. Mounir kept saying that my strengths are my speed and my feet and I must take advantage of them. People were asking me if I was more relaxed now that I was guaranteed a medal, and my answer was “no.” When I fought Araga, I was telling myself, “I’m closer to my dream.” The focus was on reaching the final, and thank God I won and achieved that.

Tell us about the final.

The final match was completely different, I was in a strange state and I was very impulsive.

I started the match by scoring three points and then I scored another and I was leading 4-0. (Ganjzadeh) scored a point and it became 4-1.

Then came that kick, and the Iranian player fell — it did not even cross my mind that I would be disqualified. I was even signalling to my coach to try and calm me down because I was already so charged up.

The longer he stayed on the mat, I began to get nervous, but even after he was carried out on stretcher I did not think that I would be disqualified. I was thinking “this is my gold,” but when I saw the judges gather, I started to get pessimistic. I walked over to my coach and could see the look of concern on his face. The referees came back and took their decision to disqualify me.

I was not expecting this decision at all, and mentally I collapsed. My coach was distraught, my mother was distraught and so were the Saudi people. I walked off the arena and was in state of shock of course — the coach was talking to me but I wasn’t taking anything in.

I was walking and crying, and then I met the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, and his deputy.

Prince Abdulaziz grabbed me and said: “Why are you crying? You achieved a great thing. Raise your head, the medal was taken from you.”




Supplied/SOPC

You then received a surprise call from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. What did he say to you?

I was still sad and crying because of the loss of gold, but then Prince Abdulaziz hands me his phone and says “the crown prince wants to talk to you.”

I was not comprehending what was happening, and when I grabbed the phone, the crown prince said: “You’re a hero, congratulations. Keep your head high, you raised the flag of the Kingdom, you are the winner and you are the gold and you shouldn’t cry.”

He was very proud. I told him that I came to achieve the gold, and his response was, to the letter: “You did achieve gold.” I cannot describe how the words from the crown prince made me feel.

But those words are not a surprise from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and as athletes we are very fortunate to have him as our leader.

The moment of disqualification was awful, but everything that happened after that was beautiful. Had it not been for this scenario, maybe news of the event would not have spread so widely.

This moment has also place more responsibility on myself and my fellow athletes, and has raised expectations and ambitions. Our goal is to raise the flag of Saudi Arabia even higher at international competitions. As His Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “The sky is the limit for our ambitions.”

After returning home, there was a reception in your honor with the crown prince.

When we arrived in Jeddah, the reception was wonderful, very special and festive, which I was not expecting. There was big crowd in the arrival hall and I received a new award from the Ministry of Sports, which had been announced before the Olympics.

I was extremely excited to meet the Crown Prince. He said to me at the time that “you are golden in our eyes” and many other beautiful words. I thanked him for everything he has given us and promised that we will continue to aim for gold and to raise the Kingdom’s flag at every international meeting, God willing.

It was a beautiful meeting and I am very proud of it.

I was so happy to see my pictures in the streets and on posters, and my image was placed on the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh. The appreciation I received from the government and the people makes me so proud. It’s a great responsibility, and God willing, I am up to this responsibility.


Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
Updated 30 January 2023

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
  • Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-0 win over Al-Feiha on Sunday in the Saudi Super Cup Final in Riyadh to hand the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years.

The victory also gave former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Porto boss Nuno Santo his first trophy in Saudi Arabia.

Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad.

The victory handed the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years. (SPA)

And Hamdallah, who featured for Morocco in the World Cup, struck early in each half to give the Tigers a big win against their 10-man opponents.

The first goal came in the third minute. Al-Ittihad’s Romarinho picked up the ball just outside the Al-Feiha half and the Brazilian’s pass fed Hamdallah who took one touch on the edge of the area and then coolly lifted the ball over Vladimir Stojkovic.

It was a great start for the Jeddah giants and it got better for them midway through the first half as Al-Feiha were reduced to 10 men. Abdulrahman Al-Safari went in high with his studs on Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed and was shown a straight red card from the referee.

Five minutes before the break it looked as if the in-form Romarinho had extended his side’s lead but the Brazilian, who finished smartly from close range, was adjudged by the referee’s assistant — and also VAR — to have been offside.

Al-Ittihad had a chance to tighten their grip on the trophy just before the break as Stojkovic was penalized for bringing down Hamdallah inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. However, Abdulrahman Al-Oboud dragged his shot wide.

An Al-Feiha player comforts a forlorn colleague after the Al Majma'ah-based club's loss to Al-Ittihad. (SPA)

The frustration for watching fans in Jeddah did not last long as Hamdallah doubled Al-Ittihad’s lead three minutes after the restart, much to the dismay of Stojkovic. The Serbian goalkeeper came a long way off his line in an attempt to punch away a free-kick from deep, and Hamdallah’s head got there first to send the ball looping into the net.

Al-ittihad were on top for much of the second half and worked hard to ensure that they stayed in front.

Boss Santo said: “It was a good performance from us and we worked hard. It was a tough game and we are delighted that we ended up winning.”

Santo, who arrived last summer after spells with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Spurs, looked delighted as his players collected the trophy.

There is still the challenge of becoming champions of Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2009, but Santos is pleased with the progress his side have made so far.

He said: “We know that there is still a long way to go this season.

“The most important thing is that we stay together and work hard. If we can do that then who knows what can happen?

“It is great to lift this trophy but we hope that this is just the beginning.”


Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
Updated 30 January 2023

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
  • Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro

MADRID: Vinícius Júnior had his share of chances to break the deadlock. More than once, the Brazil forward was in front of the opposition goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
But Vinicius and his teammates couldn’t get the job done on Sunday as Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 draw at home by third-place Real Sociedad to lose ground to Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.
The result left defending champion Madrid five points behind the Catalan rival, which won 1-0 at Girona on Saturday. Sociedad stayed three points behind Madrid, and eight behind Barcelona. Both Madrid and Barcelona have a game in hand.
Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro. He made three key saves against close-range attempts by Vinícius, and also saw the Brazilian send the ball wide in a one-on-one situation.
“Vinícius played a good match, if he had scored it would have been a spectacular one,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He has been playing well. Sometimes he will miss, but he is always trying.”
Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also couldn’t break through the Sociedad defense as Madrid was held scoreless for the first time this season despite more than 20 attempts against Sociedad, which also had its opportunities in an intense match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“We played a very complete game but couldn’t score,” Ancelotti said. “We were close. I’m satisfied with the draw because we played well.”
Madrid, coming off a home win in the derby against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, remains unbeaten against Sociedad since a 4-3 home loss in the quarterfinals of the Copa in 2020, a competition the Basque Country side won.
Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the Copa quarterfinals, a result that ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions. It had been one of the hottest teams in Spain until the consecutive setbacks against the powerhouses.
ATLETICO REBOUNDS
Atletico Madrid bounced back from its Copa elimination against Madrid with a 1-0 win at seventh-place Osasuna.
Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored the winner less than 10 minutes after he had entered the match in the 65th.
Atletico relinquished a late 1-0 lead against Madrid to lose 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday. The cup was the only competition Atletico realistically had a chance to win as it had already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Europa League, and it currently trails league leader Barcelona by 13 points.
“We are out of the Champions (League) and the Copa, but the motivation to play for Atletico remains,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’ll always demand that from my players.”
It was the third win in four games in all competitions for Simeone’s team, while struggling Osasuna remained winless in four straight.
Osasuna has only one victory in eight matches overall, though it hadn’t lost since last year.
Atletico hadn’t won an away match in the league since October at Real Betis.
WILLIAMS’ RUN ENDS
Iñaki Williams’ absence in Athletic Bilbao’s 1-0 loss at Celta Vigo ended his record of 251 consecutive league appearances. He did not play in Vigo because of injury.
Williams had played in every league match for Bilbao since April 2016.
Veteran striker Iago Aspas scored Celta’s winner in the 71st. The result moved Celta to 16th place, while Bilbao remained eighth.
Bilbao is winless in five league games, since a 3-0 home victory against Valladolid before the World Cup.
VALENCIA’S STRUGGLES
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 loss at Valladolid, adding pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia has only one win in its last 10 league games, against Real Betis before the World Cup. It dropped to 14th place and one point above the relegation zone.
Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a 90th-minute winner for 17th-place Valladolid, which ended its five-game losing streak across all competitions.


Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
Updated 30 January 2023

Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
  • The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Female participation in esports is only set to increase in the coming years, Reaam Alkhudairi, from the Saudi Esports Federation has said.

In the Kingdom alone, approximately six million people played games in 2020, with nearly half of the new players in Saudi Arabia being women.

The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia, Alkhudairi said, adding that more changes will take place as Vision 2030 continues.

Saudi Arabia's gaming sector is thriving, and especially its esports scene, and experiencing more opportunities for women as well, she said.

Esports are an exciting and challenging endeavor, and Saudi Esports Federation is dedicated to encouraging and supporting youths and adults alike to take part, Alkhudairi said.

The Saudi Esports Federation is also seeking to improve the skills of females in esports as part of its mission, she added, citing the example of Najd Fahd, who is now recognized as the first Saudi Arabian female to win first place in FIFA 20 and who was also awarded Best Female Player of 2021 by the Saudi Esports Federation Awards (SEF Awards).


Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
Updated 29 January 2023

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
  • Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma

BRIGHTON: Liverpool’s disastrous season suffered another blow on Sunday as the holders were dumped out the FA Cup by a 2-1 defeat at Brighton.

Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant control and finish in stoppage time earned the Seagulls a place in the fifth round.

Liverpool had led at the Amex through Harvey Elliott, but have now won just once in their last six games.

Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma.

The Japanese winger cushioned Pervis Estupinan’s cross into his path, flicked the ball over Joe Gomez and fired high past Alisson Becker in the 92nd minute.

Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind pacesetters Arsenal.

Their FA Cup exit leaves the Champions League as their only remaining shot at a trophy this season.

Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the brink of a historic quadruple, which included their first FA Cup triumph in 16 years.

But Klopp is still searching for answers to halt their decline after a second defeat on the south coast in 15 days.

The German described Brighton’s 3-0 win when the sides last met as the worst performance of his managerial career.

Liverpool did at least put up a fight this time and will rue two big early chances missed by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian did at least have a hand in Liverpool’s goal as he released Elliott, whose strike had too much power for Steele to keep out.

Brighton hit back within nine minutes when Tariq Lamptey’s powerful shot was deflected past the helpless Alisson by Dunk.

The hosts were without Moises Caicedo after the Ecuadorian took to social media on Friday to try and force through a move to Arsenal.

Brighton have already lost Leandro Trossard, who scored a hat trick against Liverpool earlier in the season, to the Gunners this month.

But those absences did not show as Liverpool were left riding their luck for most of the second period.

Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho were extremely fortunate to escape red cards for challenges on Alexis Mac Allister and Evan Ferguson.

Alisson threw himself in front of Solly March to make a brilliant save from Mitoma’s inventive cross and Konate did likewise to block from Ferguson.

But Brighton’s pressure finally got its reward when Mitoma struck his fourth goal in six games.


Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Updated 29 January 2023

Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

DIRIYAH: Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, on February 10 to 18 at the Elite Sports Center.

Hosted as part of the Diriyah Season, it will be the first time the event will held in the Middle East. 

More than 175 cyclists and bikers, representing 32 countries around the world, will compete for the title on a circuit especially made to host the championship at an arena capable of hosting up to 10,000 fans.

“Historic Diriyah will turn into the capital of urban sports in the world by hosting the World Cup, with the participation of a group of the most famous male and female athletes in the world, who will compete to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics,” Mai Al-Hellabi of Diriyah Season said.

Al-Hilabi indicated that the events accompanying the tournament will include a number of entertainment and sports activities and experiences that will be presented to the public for citizens and visitors from outside the Kingdom of all ages and groups.

Tickets can be booked here.