On a stage at Godolphin ballroom at Jumeirah Emirates Towers on Sunday, four Arab female athletes gathered to share the story of their journeys to the Olympic podium in Rio de Janeiro last summer.
Tunisians Ines Boubakri and Marwa Amri, and Egyptians Sara Samir and Hedaya Malak, all claimed bronze medals at the Rio Games, which marked the first time that six Arab women have made the podium at the same Olympics.
Defying stereotypes and cultural barriers, the quartet showed the Arab region, and the world, that women from the Middle East and North Africa can excel at the highest level in sport.
Each of the four ladies addressing the Sports Creativity Forum audience in Dubai yesterday had a different background and path to Olympic glory, but they all shared one thing: They managed to thrive in an environment that rarely helped them with the common goal of inspiring young Arab girls to
Samir is the youngest of the bunch. At 18, the weightlifter became the first Egyptian woman to step on an Olympic podium when she opened her nation’s account in Rio.
The diminutive North African melted the hearts of viewers across the region when she applauded herself in disbelief after lifting a personal best total weight of 255kg to seal the bronze medal in Brazil. She couldn’t hold back her tears after that.
“They were tears of joy but I was also crying because my father was not there with me. He wasn’t able to see me win this medal. He died in June 2015 in an accident. He was always by my side. He had an accident while driving back from my training camp. So when I won the medal, I really wished he was with me to witness it all,” Samir told Sport360.
The teenager is the first Arab woman to win an Olympic weightlifting medal. She first came across the sport when she joined her family at a national championship in Egypt to watch her brother compete.
“I saw that there were girls competing as well. So I told my father I wanted to try it out,” she recalls.
Just five months after she started training, Samir won her first national medal and she’s been on a winning spree ever since. She claimed gold at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing 2014 before her exploits in Rio.
“I really wanted to win a medal so bad. People were always going on and on about how young I am and that I wasn’t ready, but I proved them wrong,” she says with a smile.
Samir is used to ignoring all the noise around her and simply goes about her business in a way that best serves her sporting career. She attended military school, where she lived and trained, but when she tried to get her final exams rescheduled because they coincided with the Olympics, no one cooperated. She saw that other athletes had managed to get their tests mailed to the Egyptian embassy of the country where they were competing so she tried to do the same in Brazil, but her school refused.
“The day I won bronze, I received a letter from school telling me that I failed all my exams even though I didn’t even sit for them,” she said.
She is now repeating the year she failed.
Weightlifting is not popular amongst women in the Arab world and Samir is well aware of that. But she believes there are wrong perceptions that taint the image of the sport.
“People have to stop with the mentality of ‘you’re a girl and you can’t do sport and weightlifting is for men’. None of this is true,” she insists.
“Weightlifting has nothing to do with you being a man or a woman. They keep saying ‘as a woman your muscles will be way too big’ but that’s not true, we are weightlifters, not bodybuilders, we’re not supposed to have big muscles. It’s a sport like any sport, and it’s good for anyone, both men and women.”
Ines Boubakri is an Olympic bronze medalist fencer who also has a Masters degree in Mental Preparation pic.twitter.com/YuariXkfYU— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 8, 2017
Fellow Olympic bronze medallist, Marwa Amri hears similar views on her chosen sport – wrestling. Amri came across the sport in 2001 when the Mediterranean Games were staged in Tunisia. The sport intrigued her and she found a training hall close to where she lived.
“Some people see it as maybe an aggressive sport but I don’t see anything that is too difficult for a woman,” said the 27-year-old. “Being the first Arab and African female to win an Olympic medal in wrestling is a huge feat. We don’t have a big sporting tradition in Tunisia when it comes to wrestling and I was happy to place my country on the map and show that we are capable of achieving great things in this sport.”
Hedaya Malak’s love affair with taekwondo began when she was just seven, following in the footsteps of her older brother. She watched the Olympics on TV as a youngster and says she wanted to inspire others the same way she felt inspired.
The 23-year-old Egyptian came ever so close to medalling in London 2012 but lost in the quarter-finals. She says it only fueled her desire even more to go for the podium in Rio. Sat next to her fellow Arab Olympic medallists – who are all being honoured at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Creative Sports Award ceremony today – Malak believes they could all play a pivotal role in motivating future generations.
“I feel that we definitely can have a real impact on Arab girls to try and follow suit. Especially in our Arab culture, it’s quite common for people to think that a girl’s only option is to get a degree then get married and stay at home,” said Malak, who is attends the University of Fine Arts in Cairo, where she studies Cinema and Theatre Design.
“It’s not a common mentality that a girl can have ambitions, successes, accomplishments. So getting this award for our exploits in Rio is definitely a big thing because it’s showing other girls out there that they can do the same.
“There should be many more than four of us out there winning Olympic medals. I really hope we can inspire more girls to excel in anything they want to pursue. We should have our own place in society, we have brains and can do whatever we want.”
Both Samir and Malak wear the hijab and compete in it freely. Malak never saw it as a hindrance to her sporting career and is happy to alter any misconceptions about it.
“I think the most important thing is that we’re also changing perceptions about hijabis. We can be successful, we can be good at our sport, we can be whatever we want,” she says. “I’m changing the idea that people may have about Muslims, that we are ‘terrorists’ or whatever they are calling us. People asked me questions like ‘do you wear this hijab at home?’ and I explain to them that we have a normal life.”
For Ines Boubakri, her history-making feats in fencing allowed her to show the world a
different side of Tunisia.
She got into the sport courtesy of her mother, Henda Zaouali, who was a fencer herself and competed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
At 14, Boubakri was already crowned African champion, competing against the grown-ups and beating them.
After completing her high school diploma in Tunisia, Boubakri moved to Paris in search of better training conditions.
While she was busy making podiums at world championships, and taking part in three different Olympic Games, Boubakri managed to get a Master’s degree in Mental Preparation in Sport from the Paris Descartes University.
She has been married for two years and says her message to Arab women is that starting a family does not mean the end of their sporting careers.
The 28-year-old added: “My family played a huge role. My father was very supportive, he had experience supporting my mother as a champion. She would travel to competitions and he would stay with us at home.
“I hope more fathers in the Arab world can open their minds and allow their daughters to take up sport.”
And there’s lots on offer for everyone – whether you’re a petrolhead or runner.
The Hankook 24H Dubai kicks off at the Dubai Autodrome on Thursday and is the perfect event to attend if you like fast cars, while Al Ain’s Wadi Adventure Race and the ADCB Zayed Sports City 5k and 10k Runs offer something for everyone in the UAE capital.
Are you going to any of these events?
KIBSONS / DASSA SCHOOLS AQUATHLON – SENIORS RACE 2
Sign your kids up for the three-race Senior Aquathlon series, in association with Kibsons / DASSA Schools.
Super Sports Events organises another fun-filled event for the youth of Dubai. Approved by DASSA and Dubai Sports Council, the aquathlon pits students against each other or as a collective bunch against other school teams in a three-race series.
Held at Rashid School for Boys, the Kibsons-sponsored affair will include separate categories for competing boys and girls with three age brackets, ensuring a delightful afternoon of running and swimming.
WHERE: Dubai, Rashid School for Boys, Nad Al Sheba
MORE INFO: supersportsuae.com/kibsons-schools-aquathlon-series
HANKOOK 24H DUBAI
Three-day event beginning on Thursday 12 January, Friday 13, Saturday 14
The Hankook 24-hour endurance race is an adrenaline-packed weekend that sees the world’s best endurance racers descend on the Dubai Autodrome.
And the FIA-approved event – which began in 2006 – is set to wow UAE petrolheads again.
Spectators in Dubai will witness the excitement unravel at the state-of-the-art Dubai Autodrome in Motor City, with crowd favourite Khaled Al Qubaisi set to grace the track along with former Formula One driver Robert Kubica.
The Emirati driver maintains high hopes of erasing previous heartbreaks to claim victory for a third time – having triumphed in 2012 and 2013. He enjoyed a successful stint in Mexico with Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing in 2016 and will certainly be among the favourites for glory again.
MORE INFO: 24hseries.com/24h-dubai
WHERE: Dubai, Dubai Autodrome
RACE 2 ADCB ZAYED SPORTS CITY 5K AND 10K RUN
Friday, 13 January
The second and third Zayed Sports City runs are open to people of various fitness levels with previous editions welcoming everyone from toddlers to 70-year-olds!
It’s a sensible idea for novice runners to take part in the 5km fun run, which consists of a single circuit of the Zayed Sports City grounds. For those keen to further test their endurance, the 10km run requires participants to complete two laps.
Contestants who reach the finishing line receive medals, their official race time and a running cap.
MORE INFO: abudhabistriders.com
WHERE: Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi
MEYDAN HORSE RACES – DAY 6
Saturday, 14 January
Witness UAE racing action at its finest at Meydan Racecourse.
Fun fact: the Meydan Racecourse grandstand is the world’s longest single structure, boasting an incredible reach of over a mile in length. It is capable of accommodating over 60,000 spectators and that’s exactly what the venue does for the Dubai World Cup each year.
Before that, however, there is a season of racing to enjoy. Dubai is well known for it’s passion for horse-racing given the success of the world-renowned Godolphin stable, and each Thursday night from November onwards, Meydan host nights of horse racing for fans and newcomers alike to enjoy.
General admission is free but there are also hospitality packages to suit a special occasion.
WHERE: Meydan Racecourse, Nad Al Sheba, Dubai
MORE INFO: dubairacingclub.com/visit/racing-season
WADI ADVENTURE RACE (W.A.R.) 2017
Saturday, 14 January
Don’t waste another moment as Al Ain’s landmark waterpark welcomes back the 12th installment of the Wadi Adventure Race.
One of the UAE’s most popular obstacle challenges returns to Wadi Adventure.
Participants will be tested as they face rejuvenated and brand-new obstacles, such as dashing through the desert and swimming in aquatic environments.
The event maintains its three-distance categories and is the perfect opportunity for people to compete in a different kind of race at the Middle East’s first man-made whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing facility.
WHERE: Al Ain, Wadi Adventure
MORE INFO: facebook.com/WadiAdventureRace
Have you visited our events page? Check it out now – click here.
From football to fencing, kitesurfing to cricket – Dubai has plenty to offer sport and fitness fans.
Each Sunday, we will be rounding up the best of the #MyDubai social media posts of the past week to take a peek into the Dubai sporting landscape.
This time around, New Year came and went and with it a whole lot of resolutions to get fitter and healthier in 2017. Here are some of the past week’s highlights.
VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONS CROWNED:
Capturing happy moments after winning UAE national cup final today 🏐🏆🏅 Proud of my team who proved me right yet again Special thanks to my brother and friend captain @jaffaraalfardan sharing these moments with us 🙏🏻 Extended thanks to @sharjahsportstv @dubaisportstv @rasha_mohmmed @emanm7amd for their amazing coverage And all the respect to HH @shamsa_almaktoum for her big heart and support to the game Proud of you all 🏐🏆🏅❤️ ➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖#alwaslsc_women #alwasl #volleyball #volleyballgirls #novi_sad #serbia #mydxb #mydubai #simplyabudhabi #jlt #dubaimodel #dubaicrew #fitness #sport #peace #love #instasport #selfie #girlslovetravel #followme
BOXING STAR JOSHUA WORKS OUT:
Anthony Joshua vs @ptdxb in a sprint race 🏃😃👏 Shared from @ptdxb - When IBF Heavyweight World Champion @anthony_joshua turns up at @skydivedubai I thought I could beat him in a sprint...😂😂 He even gave me that @usainbolt look as he went by!! Round 2 at @tkmmafit if you fancy it AJ! #PTDXB @fitnessindxb @jcelite14 #Dubai #DubaiLife #MyDubai #FitnessInDXB #skydivedubai
2XU TRIATHLON CHAMPIONSHIPS:
Race No.1 of 2017 in the bag, 2XU Triathlon Championships. Awesome sprint race to get the ball rolling for the year! Need to work a bit on the pacing, I guess that comes with practice! Roll on Yas Tri in Feb #scottbikes #mydubai #2xu #2xumiddleeast #polar #polarwatch #triathlete #triathlon #practicemakesperfect #ironmantraining #uaebloggers #dubaiblogger
CAR PARK CRICKET:
SANDBOARDING IN THE DESERT:
Perfect weather for outdoor exercise at the moment!! Back in Dubai running by the new canal water way. So fresh and a beautiful view. Get out of the gym or home once in a while and train outside, if you are in a place where the weather will allow you. Even just for 20-30mins walk or run (or both), you will be surprised how much fresher and more motivated you feel to continue your day.😁😍👊🏼 #dubaicanal #exerciseoutside #changeofscenery #mixitup #freshair #motivation #run #walk #keepmoving #fitnesscoach #mydubai #fitnessindxb
JOSHUA’S SUNSET CRUISE:
A MORNING RIDE:
Amazing kicks session with amazing girl @soraya_alali👊 👊 👊 always .Go hard or go home #mydubai #muaythailife#uae #fitnessindxb#boxing #training#ufs #muaythaifighter#thaiboxing #boxing #instafamous#instapic#bestvideo#kickboxing #videooftheday#muaythai #nakmuay# #instafit#martialarts#uaefitnessmovement #trainingday #fighting #ufc201 #thaiboxing #boxinggloves #workout #lomachenko #dubaisports#boxinghype#boxingband #boxing #knockout #sport#dubaisports
FEEL THE SURGE:
BURJ AL ARAB AIR:
Self-Confidence is the first requisite to the great undertakings! #instahealth #instadaily #lifecoach #luxurydubai #shqiperia #fitnessindxb #fitnessindubai #dubaifitness #dubaifitfam #primefituae #fitguys #crossfituae #uae #personaltrainerdubai #dubailife #tiranalifestyle #tirana #shqiptar #albania #albanian #challenge #ilovedubai #mydubai #kuqezi #eatclean #crossfit #spartanarabia #dedication #tonyrobbins
Ride or Die 💙 @totem_ceo #teamfury #gatorz #mydubai #motorcycle #desertlife #quads #bikelife #fitfam #traveller #memories #barbellfury #mydubai #outdoorlife @foxheaduae #activelifestyle #eattraveltrain #dirtbike #quadbiking #motorhead #fitspo #fitspiration #rideordie #mx #mxlife #petrolhead @husqvarna1903 @husqvarna_daily @flyracingusa #flyracing #flyracingfamily
There's so much to be said in a simple life being a happy life. My focus for the year. #keeprunning #keepitsimple #keepitreal #betrue #bestrong #instarunners #befit #fitnessmotivation #moveeveryday #getupandmove #mydubai #gucrew #guforit #2xu #newtonrunning #polara360 #heartcore #fitnessinspiration #fitmom #fitmomsofig #fitnessindxb
ONE MORE SQUAT:
Training @monkalita last night this beauty holds a beast inside of her :) I definitely pushed her to her limits yesterday and she manages to always throw a smile at the end of each grueling set :) #beastmode #fitnessindxb #gymmotivation #girlswholift #stronggirls #sexyfitness #mydubai #dubaifitness #fitnessfirstme #squats #highvolumetraining #legday #bootyworkout #fitnessfirstdifc
#tbt growing up I wasn't always into trying to stay healthy and keeping fit, but I changed my life around as best I could and still to this day I'm still challenging myself till I reach my full potential! 😰💪 . . . . . . . . . . #beastmode #motivation #inspiration #dreambig #mydubai #fitnessindxb #personaltrainer #stumps_fitness #bodybuilding #gymrat #transformation #nutrition #diet #fun #active #gains #swole #fitness #fatloss #selfie #selfiedubai #gymlife #beforeandafter #photooftheday #adidas #reebok @mydubai @fitnessindxb @adidasmena @reebokmena @nike_middleeast
AT THE CORE:
When your instructors and members are regularly highlighted on @zumba #Instagram and Facebook page with more than 7.5 million followers, you know you got it down!!! Thank you #ZumbaFitness #Zumba for bringing this awesome program to the world and to @masterjedai @zumbaleonardo @joseph_deleon @enzo_aimee_iah @zinjaycee for bringing your #fitspiration and energy to every class!!! This is just a regular morning class at #CoreFit FYI! 😳😎😋 #InspiringMovement #Fitness #MyDubai
Mother daughter Pilates @clubstretch #mydubai 💞 . Pilates is a deep connection through your entire body, it's connecting the abdominal muscles through the feet👣, up the legs🏃🏻 and like a thread is being pulled from the muscle through the top of the head 🙇🏻 . Brian spoke about pinning an upholstery button to the fabric of the back through your centre of gravity, 🎯 Where do you think your CoG is? ...I thought it was just above my belly button nah uhhhhh mate🙅🏻 If you place your thumbs 👍🏻 on the belly button, your ring fingers on your hip bones and ☝🏻️your index on the centre of your pubic bone, creating a diamond shape . 💎The centre of that diamond is where you want to pin the "upholstery button to the fabric of your back", fabric being your skin. Pull the button in without changing the shape of the frame ie don't clench your buttocks🍑 or let your shoulders to move up to your ears👂🏼 . Exactly as an upholstery button does to the fabric on a piece of furniture ! How profound and simple💡 . 💞I love love LOVE instructors like this where the philosophy is to teach you something, not to make you co-dependent on the class but to help you apply it #onthedaily, and share the gift of fitness with everyone🏋🏽. If your instructor isn't doing this ... Maybe ask yourself, are you learning something new with each session? 🤓Are they pushing you past your limitations?😅 Are they taking you to your uncomfortable?🤔 . Mum clearly forgot to send the "no hands" memo #showoff 😜 . #dubaifitness #dubaifitfam #pilatesdubai #dubaimarina #josephpilates #pilates #pilateslove #abworkout #coreworkout #everydamnday #fitnessmotivation #healthisyawealth #ireland #lovindublin #irishfitfam #ukfitfam #fitfam #visitdubai #partnerworkout #dubailife Wearing @sweatybetty and @lululemonuk 💞 #always #sweatybetty #lululemon
RAISING THE BAR:
I was trying to beat the cool @juliebjanes but the shadows got to me first over the amazing song for @official_flo #calisthenics #streetworkout #workout #workoutmotivation #gopro #neverquit #training #goshow #yoga #diet #planche #fitnessmodel #athletic #fitness #fitnessmotivation #gym #gymworkout #gymmotivation #skydivedubai #handstand #lift #beastmode #motivation #neverbackdown #mydubai #dubai9 #parkour #day
LIFTING THE SPIRITS:
Had fun training with @radovicbojan yesterday even though we're still feeling sluggish after all that holiday food 🥘 and drink 🍹nonetheless, were getting back to the grind 💪🏼 . Started with a steady 3km run, then did 3 sets of 10 squat thrusters, 20 sumo deadlifts, 25 bench jumps; we finished with some should work and handstand holds 🤸🏻♀️🏋🏻♀️ . . . . . . . #beinspired #inspiration #personaltrainer #gymlife #crossfit #girlswholift #fitness #fitfam #active #motivation #liveinspired #fitnessmotivation #activelife #healthylife #gainz #paleo #fityourbody #wellness #fitspiration #healthyeating #paleolife #muscles #roguefitness #reebok #mydubai #fitlifedxb #bodybuilding
NEW YEAR, NEW YOGA:
Hari om good morning beautiful place for yoga at Madinat Jumeirah. For private or group yoga classes call 043666818 or wats 0501702272 namaste. #sunsetyogadubai #dubailife #dubai #kitebeach #fitnessdubai #fitness #talisefitness #talisespa #yogapractice #artofliving #yogaforwelbing #hathayoga #yogakirtan #dubai #nutrition #mylife #mydubai #mall #beach #happy #dubairetreats #kitebeach #fitnessdubai #indiayoga #meditation #yogacommunity #yoginilife #yogaeveryday #singingbowl #sunsetyogadubai #privateyoga # vinyasayoga#kitebeach #motivation # morningyoga #xyogadubai #indiayoga # Delhiyoga #mumbaiyoga.
WITNESS THE FITNESS:
First full day in Dubai down on JBR taking our boys through there paces ☺️💪🏼🙌🏼 ......... A new year and a new home the whole KO8 team will be taking 1 on 1 PT sessions and Bootcamps in some amazing locations here in Dubai!!! ......... Please DM me for more information to start your new year with a new you! Who wants to be bikini ready? 🙋👙💪🏼👊🏼☀️🌎 #dubailife #dubai #dubaifitness @dubaifitfam #mydubai #fitness #personaltraining #bootcamps #jbr #downtown #marinadubai #fitfam #fitchicks #fitnesslife #fitnessmodel #fitnessjourney #fitfam #newyearnewyou #bikinifitness