Weightlifter who became the first Egyptian woman to win an Olympic medal and the first Arab woman to get on the podium in her sport has inspired countless others across the Middle East.
Sara Ahmed produced one of the most memorable feel-good stories of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when she became the first Egyptian woman to win a medal in her country’s 104-year Olympic history. But the little weightlifter’s journey to becoming a trailblazer in the Arab world had begun two years earlier.
“The Youth Olympics are one of the biggest competitions I have ever participated in and it had the greatest impact on the development of my performance.”
It was at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games that Ahmed first made her mark, winning the 63kg class at the age 16. “The Youth Olympics are one of the biggest competitions I have ever participated in and it had the greatest impact on the development of my performance,” she said.
Asked if she was nervous before competing in Nanjing, the 1.55m-tall (5ft 1in) Ahmed replied emphatically. “Yes, oh yes, because I was so small and the competition was so strong, but thank God I achieved my goal and won the medal.
“And my gold medal there was an incentive for me to prepare more and better for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to gain a new medal for Egypt and for myself.”
The bronze medal she won in Brazil, in the 69kg event, was historical in many ways: as well as being a first for an Egyptian woman, it was the first Olympic weightlifting medal to be won by an Arab woman and only the second by an African woman.
It neatly illustrated sport’s ability to knock down social barriers and made Ahmed – who competes in a sport hijab and a full-length unitard – a role model for women across the region. “I was proud to achieve a greater goal and to improve the role of women in Egypt and Arab countries. It emphasised the role of women in the Arab world and that this is not less than the role of men in all fields.”
After her success in Rio, Ahmed said she hoped others would follow in her footsteps and now, she confirms, that has happened. “Many athletes do weightlifting to be like me and I am so proud of that – to be a reason for increasing the number of women athletes in weightlifting, and also in other sports, to raise and increase their role in sports.
“Female athletes tell me they were very happy and proud (when Ahmed won bronze in Rio) and started looking forward to achieving and being like me in their fields, always looking to reach to the high levels and be the best.”
Ahmed hopes to see some of those women achieve success at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. And she has a message for all the athletes preparing for what will probably be the biggest event of their lives so far.
“They must maintain their commitment to training and follow the instructions of their coaches to be more able to face stronger competition. They must insist on achieving their goals.
“The Youth Olympics equip young athletes to prepare for even greater goals and be experienced to be able to participate in stronger championships, such as the Tokyo Olympic Games (in 2020).”
Ahmed herself is training and preparing psychologically every day for her goal of “gaining a gold medal for Egypt in Tokyo”. Few would bet against her.
Source: YOG Buenos Aires 2018