Egypt Pulse

Egyptians pin Olympic hopes on fencing star

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Article Summary
Egypt's celebrated fencer Alaaeldin Abouelkassem is determined to return home from Rio de Janeiro with another Olympic medal.

Four years after winning the silver medal in the men’s foil event at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 25-year-old Egyptian fencer Alaaeldin Abouelkassem is in Rio de Janeiro heading his country’s fencing team at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to take place there Aug. 5-21. The first Egyptian, Arab and African competitor to win an Olympic fencing medal, Abouelkassem is determined to repeat his earlier triumph, vowing to return home with another, "hopefully gold."

Despite suffering a shoulder injury, Abouelkassem captured the gold in the men’s individual and team foil events at the 11th African Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in 2015 after having earlier won a bronze medal at the Mediterranean Games in Turkey in 2013. The left-handed foil fencer, seeded ninth globally, also clinched the silver at the men's foil Grand Prix earlier this year in Havana, Cuba.

Abouelkassem is in high spirits ahead of the upcoming tournament and has assured his fans at home of “yet another victory.” In an interview on Egyptian State TV broadcast a day before his departure to Rio on July 30, he said that the last training program in a camp in France ahead of the summer games had been "highly successful.”

Egypt’s first Olympic fencing medalist took up fencing at the tender age of 8 after trying his hand at other sports like swimming and karate. He began to compete internationally in 2008, winning medals at the African and the World Junior Fencing Championships in Italy. It was not until three years later, however, at the 2011 Fleuret de St. Petersbourg, that Abouelkassem won his first World Cup medal (bronze) at the senior level. That same year he also clinched gold at the Pan Arab Games in the individual and team foil events. In 2012, Abouelkassem narrowly missed the gold in a 15-13 defeat by China’s Sheng Lei at the London Summer Olympics, earning the silver medal instead. Nevertheless, his success at the Olympics has brought the hitherto little-known sport to the attention of the Egyptian public. It has also positioned Egypt’s National Fencing Team as the highest ranked in Africa.

Egypt is scheduled to compete with a total of 119 athletes (36 of them women) in 22 sports at the Rio Summer Olympics. It is the largest delegation yet to represent Egypt at the games. Four years ago in London, a total of 110 Egyptian athletes participated in 83 events across 20 sports, with more women taking part than at the previous Olympic Games. Seven Egyptian fencers (five men and two women) have qualified for the Olympics this time around (five fewer than the 12-strong team that represented Egypt at the London Olympics in 2012). They will participate in the fencing competitions scheduled to take place Aug. 6-14 at the Barra Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca. In all, 212 fencers (in equal distribution between men and women, with eight coming from the host nation Brazil) will compete in 10 events (six individual and four team) in foil, epee and sabre.

Two of Abouelkassem’s teammates, Tarek Ayad and Ayman Fayez, had also qualified for the last Olympics and had won medals at the 2011 Pan Arab Games. Ayad was part of the gold-medal-winning foil team and won bronze individually. Fayez, meanwhile, won the gold in the individual and team epee events at the 2011 Pan Arab Games. The other four fencers are participating in the Olympic Games for the first time.

While all the team members are promising, Egyptian fans are pinning their hopes on Abouelkassem to bring home the gold.

“It would be a first for Egypt in fencing,” said Mohamed El Sherbini, a sales executive.

Meanwhile, Dina Fahmy, a marketing consultant, says she will be cheering on the women. She said, “Fencing is a nonconventional sport for women in Egypt. Besides, none of the women fencers won any bouts in London. It would make us proud to see a female fencer come home with a medal.”

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Found in: sports, rio de janiero, olympics, olympic games, egyptians, athletes

Shahira Amin is an award-winning journalist based in Cairo. Former deputy head of state-run Nile TV, she quit her job at the height of the Jan. 25, 2011, uprising to protest censorship of her work. She has since worked as a freelance writer for Index on Censorship, Freemuse, CNN and other news websites, and as a filmmaker producing documentaries for UN agencies. She has been writing for Al-Monitor since January 2016.

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