Teenager Sara Ahmed earned Egypt its first medal of Rio 2016, claiming the bronze medal with a brave performance in the 69kg weightlifting competition on Wednesday.
Ahmed is just the second Egyptian female to win an Olympic medal after her compatriot Abeer Abdelrahman was belatedly given silver in the weightlifting 75kg category last month, when the IOC disqualified all three medallists from London 2012 for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
At just 18, Ahmed lifted a combined weight of 255kg to finish third behind gold medallist Xiang Yanmei of China and silver medallist Zhazira Zhapparkul of Kazakhstan.
Prior to Ahmed and Abdelrahman’s medals, Egypt’s last weighting medal had come in 1948. The country used to be a powerhouse in weightlifting with its men winning a number of medals at the 1936 and 1948 Games.
“I prepared well, since the start of 2016, and I was completely dedicated to training. I even skipped my exams at school,” an elated Ahmed told beIN Sports.
Xiang recovered from a nasty bang on the head to clinch gold with a combined weight of 261kg.
The Chinese lifter was attempting to hoist 118kg on her final go in the snatch when she dropped the barbell on the back of her head, jerking her neck forward and drawing gasps from the crowd.
She appeared unhurt however and brushed off the incident to register 145kg in the clean and jerk.
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Al Kaabi finished ninth in double trap qualification on Wednesday, hitting 134 out of 150 targets over five rounds, with only one target separating him from the top-six finish that he needed to advance to the semi-finals.
“Thank God I’m very proud of what I’ve done, I’m really happy,” Al Kaabi told Sport360.
“This was a new experience for me, my first Olympics, and there’s lots of media attention and a very high level of competition.
The conditions were extremely tough today, the weather was cloudy, there was light rain, and it was very windy. The wind ruined my chances in four targets today because they kept drifting with the breeze.
“I needed just one more target to make the semi-final, which would have been huge. But anyway this performance is very motivating for me because it showed me that I’m very close to the level of the world champions.”
Indeed, one more successfully-hit target, and Al Kaabi would have entered a shoot-off with Kuwait’s Fehaid Al Deehani, American Joshua Richmond and China’s Hu Binyuan, who all tied with a 135 tally.
Al Deehani, a bronze medallist in Sydney 2000 and London 2012, won that shoot-off to advance to the semi-finals.
Al Kaabi, who is coached by UAE Olympic gold medallist shooter Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum, concedes that the weather took him by surprise as it was considerably different than the conditions he experienced in the build-up to the competition.
“I’ve been here for two weeks and I came early especially to adjust to the conditions here in Rio,” he explained.
“The weather had been hot and sunny and not too windy the whole time I was here, but today it was cold, windy, gloomy and rainy. I hadn’t experienced these conditions since I got here, even the wind changed direction, and the visibility was very poor. I was surprised by the weather.”
The Al Ain native was originally targeting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for his first Games experience but he surprised himself by taking gold in the Asian qualifying competition earlier this year to book himself a spot in Rio. The novelty of the occasion had its early effects on him.
“I was really tense at first but I tried to focus on my tactics to try and do my best. I didn’t focus on numbers and my competition. I must say I felt quite confident as the time went by,” he said.
“I feel like I’m ahead of schedule in terms of my original plan and now I’m more motivated and confident that I can do much better in Tokyo.”