The past 10 years have had their ups and their downs, their shocks and their joys, and every part of society has its own story to tell. Through the noise, a number of athletes and sports teams have managed to make their mark on Egypt throughout this fascinating and eventful decade.
In spite of humble beginnings, intimidating competition, painful accidents, ageist stigma, and more, these athletes proved themselves against all odds and made a name for themselves within Egypt and abroad.
Here are a few of the personalities that shook the world of Egyptian sports, galvanized audiences and brought them joy, and inspired young athletes to persevere in their endeavors to achieve sports excellence.
In 2017, Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman, 25, broke the records for the 50m freestyle and the 50m butterfly, both of which remain unbroken to this day.
Born in Indianapolis, USA in 1995, Osman grew up in Egypt, where she first entered the world of swimming at the green age of five at Gezira Sporting Club with her brother. And though she left the sport to pursue to pursue her passion for synchronized swimming, she returned once again and the awards started coming in. At the age of 12, she was a national champion in the two swimming styles in which she currently holds the African record, and she was the youngest athlete in Egypt’s team at the Pan-Arab Games in 2007.
Egypt’s ‘Golden Fish’ has won two gold medals and a silver medal in the 2018 Mediterranean Games held in Spain, and was named the Best Female Athlete from Africa by the Association Of National Olympic Committees in 2017.
“Swimming taught me to be organized and to manage my time properly in order to balance between my studies, practice, and my goals,” Osman, who studied at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview with Daily News Egypt. “Thanks to swimming, I have learned to be independent and it exposed me to the real world. It taught me the meaning of hard work and how [to] achieve my goal if I put my mind into it.”
I recognition of Osman’s achievements, the swimming complex in the main public sports center in Cairo was named after her.
Over the past decade, Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah has reached worldwide renown with his gradual rise to superstardom. Now universally considered one of the world’s best players, Salah’s struggle through his humble beginnings turned him into an inspiration to millions of Egyptians.
The 27-year-old began his career at Al-Mokawloon Al-Arab club in Cairo, a stint that for a long time involved an eight-hour commute everyday. After his stellar performance at the 2012 London Olympics, he entered the the world of international football when he was scouted by the Swiss club FC Basel.
Salah’s performance at Basel led to a transfer to Chelsea FC in England, where the team’s then-manager Jose Mourinho rarely let him start. After a brief and uneventful stint at Chelsea, he conquered the Serie A (the Italian league) first on loan at ACF Fiorentina, then at AS Roma.
After two nearly flawless seasons at Roma, he made his transfer to his current club, Liverpool FC in 2017, where he almost instantly became a team legend. He broke the record for highest number of goals in a debut season, scoring 44 in all of the club’s games combined.
In that very same season, he scored 32 goals in the English Premier League, breaking the record for number of goals scored in a 38-game season, and beating Premier League icons Luis Suarez, Alan Shearer, and Cristiano Ronaldo. He is currently the highest-scoring Liverpool player of the decade.
The crowning achievement of his club career so far was Liverpool win at the 2019 UEFA Champions League, arguably the most competitive club tournament in football. Salah’s contribution to this victory against Tottenham Hotspur F.C. is undeniable. He also scored one of the Liverpool’s two goals that night in Madrid. Liverpool also won the Club World Cup later that same year, where Salah won the Player of the Tournament award.
Many songs have been written to honor Salah by Liverpool fans, who have nicknamed him the Egyptian King. He has appeared on murals in cities across the world, from small Egyptian towns to Times Square in New York City, and he has been featured on the covers of Time Magazine and GQ Magazine in 2018. Along with Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek, Salah was also named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019.
Essam El Hadary
It might sound somewhat odd to celebrate this 1973-born athlete in the second decade of this century, but this is among the most inspiring aspects of Essam El Hadary’s career as a football goalkeeper.
Hadary, nicknamed the High Dam, had a senior career spanning 26 long years, longer than almost any other player at this level. His career began in Damietta Club in 1993, moving to Al-Ahly Sporting Club in 1996, where he played for twelve years. He then sampled a host of top Egyptian and foreign teams for 11 more years, earning 159 caps in the meantime as the national team’s goalkeeper.
Most of his triumphs with Al-Ahly and the Egyptian National Football Team were in the 1990s and 2000s, but his biggest victory came in the very last phase of his career, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
He became the oldest ever player to take part in the World Cup at 45 years and 161 days old, and earned a Guinness World Record entry for it. He also kept Egypt’s goal post and captained the team in its match against Saudi Arabia.
His career was decked with club and country titles, including eight Egyptian Premier League titles, four Egypt Cups, four Egyptian Super Cups, four CAF Champions League titles, three CAF Super Cups, one Arab Club Champions Cup, and two Arab Super Cups, where he used to celebrate those victories by dancing on the top of the crossbar of his goal post.
Hadary’s determination and his tireless effort to best generations of younger goalkeepers by keeping his fitness and skills sharper than any of them helped him maintain his position for all those years.
He crowned his achievements with a spectacular penalty save in the World Cup, leaving his fans with a sweet memory after a glorious and unique career.
Special Team Mention: Olympic Football Team
After Olympic rules changed and senior football teams were replaced in representing their countries by under-23 teams accompanied by three senior players, Egypt’s presence in Olympic football events decreased drastically. This serves to show the significance of the current U-23 team’s victory in the African Cup, and their subsequent qualification to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
It had already been eight years since Egypt had a team qualifying for the Olympics (London 2012)—a team that included big names such as Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny.
But with the charismatic former English Premier League player Ramadan Sobhi at the helm as captain, the young team had to prevail over African football superpowers such as Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. The tournament was held in Egypt, where fans’ support can help, but whose high expectations would put even more pressure on those young, inexperienced players.
Led by the father-figure manager Shawky Gharib, the squad won game after game, first achieving the full marks in the group stage, then beating South Africa in the semi-final, setting themselves up for a massive clash with Ivory Coast.
Already enjoying the adoration of millions for their intense passion, skill, and team spirit, the players later recounted to the media how they watched the stadium sell out, and the whole nation, not just football fans, turn to them with encouragement and hope after the disappointing performance of the senior team in the African Cup of Nations, which Egypt had hosted only a few months earlier.
The young champions delivered, holding their own in a tough final. It was an inspired and inspiring performance, where the real star was the team spirit and persistence the young players showed as a cohesive group.
Para Table Tennis
“In our village, we could only play, at that time, table tennis and soccer that is why I played both,” Ibrahim Hamadtou said in an interview with CNN.
But when a train accident took both of his arms when he was only 10 years old, it seemed logical that the sport to proceed with should be football. So naturally, he picked Table Tennis.
Now 45 years old, Hamadtou can prove that he has risen to the challenge spectacularly. Racket in mouth, the father of three has two African Championship silver medals under his belt, and qualified for the Rio Paralympic Games, where he represented Egypt in 2016.
The internationally admired Hamadtou had the opportunity to play against the greatest names in Table Tennis at the World Team Table Tennis Championship in Tokyo in 2014, where was attended as the guest of honor.
In the same year, he also received the award for Athlete Who Achieved Success in Sports Despite Major Humanitarian Challenges at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards.
Special Team Mention: National Handball Team
Handball is one of the few team sports where Egypt can claim a strong standing, internationally as well as regionally, consistently placing among the strongest African performers.
The Egyptian National Handball team is one of only three African teams to have won the African Handball Championship, doing so in seven out of the 22 tournaments it competed in, which notably serves as qualifier for the Olympics and World Championship.
But the team has also had an impressive record in international handball, particularly since the 1990s, coming fourth, sixth, seventh more than once in the World Championship and the Olympic games.
Egypt had what could be considered its dream handball team in the late 1990s and early 2000s, boasting some of the country’s best players, and is credited with the best results the team has achieved internationally. But since the retirement of that generation, performance and results were not up to the expectations Egyptians held for their team.
It is against this backdrop that Egyptians embraced this new team that brought together some of the more experienced hands, such as the captain Ahmed El-Ahmar, veteran goalkeeper Karim Handawy and Ali Zein, and professionals playing in European leagues such as Mohamed Sanad and Mohamed Shebib, along with a mix of players that began the Egyptian National Team’s renaissance this past decade.
In the two consecutive African Handball Championships of 2016 and 2018 the Egyptian National Handball Team achieved first and second place respectively, and they came in 9th position at the Rio 2016 Olympics. And in the latest African Handball Championship hosted by Tunisia, historically the strongest African team, they managed to secure the gold medal and a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
Raneem El Welily
Undeniably one of Egypt’s highest achieving athletes in the last decade, Raneem El Welily, 31, is currently the highest ranked female squash player in the world, a success she first achieved in 2015.
Ongoing for the past 18 years, El Welily’s career has been as eventful as it has been successful. Her triumphs as a junior player from 2002 until 2007 promised a stellar senior career, and indeed she delivered by winning 25 titles throughout the decade between 2009 and 2019.
The Alexandrian won the World Championship in 2017, securing Silver and Bronze medals in seven other editions of the tournament, and the World Team Championship in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2018, securing one silver and one bronze in other years.
One of the traits that sets El Welily apart is her unshakable fighting spirit and relentless ambition. After first landing the top ranking position in the world, she made this statement according to the Squash Association:
“I am absolutely thrilled to have become the new World No.1. I am also very aware of the fact that I am not sitting there comfortably. I am barely touching it, what is the points difference again? It is so tiny, it is just a matter of calculation at this point.”
El Welily, who has held the top ranking spot since 2017 has also won victories on a national and regional level, and is married to Tarek Momen, also a professional squash player.
Nour El Sherbini
Nour El Sherbini’s age was only a single-digit number when she began competing at junior squash tournaments. Currently aged 24, she remains the youngest person to be a four-time winner of the Squash World Championship.
After winning a number of junior tournaments, the Alexandrian athlete began her stellar and highly decorated senior squash career. She was among the winning teams in the World Team Championship in 2012, 2016, and 2018 and won the British Open in 2016.
El Sherbini also maintains a close relationship with her fellow Egyptian Squash champions, and has gone on record particularly expressing her respect for Raneem El Welily.
“[Raneem] is closest to my heart and it is very hard to play her mentally and emotionally, but we try to leave the emotions and focus on squash once we get inside the court,” she said in a PSA World Tour press release.
Coming from a family that is passionate about sports, it was no surprise that El Sherbini chose this career. In fact, when she started playing squash at the age of six, her brother gave her the initial push, and he went on to be one of her coaches.
El Sherbini is currently ranked number two in the world, though she reached the top rank in January 2019.
Mohamed El Shorbagy
Currently ranked No. 1 since February 2020, after holding the title twice before in November 2014 and March 2018, Mohamed El Shorbagy, 29, is a highly decorated Egyptian squash player. He succeeded in winning the World Open in 2017, the British Open in 2015, 2016 and 2019, along with several other international tournaments.
The Alexandrian sportsman, who has a degree in Business and is currently studying for his Master’s degree at a university in the UK, is not the only outstanding athletes in his family. In fact, his younger brother, Marwan, is also an accomplished squash player.
Possibly the most inspiring and nerve-wracking moment in El Shorbagy’s career was when he faced Marwan in the final match of the World Championship in 2017. Mohamed ultimately won after a 5-game nail-biter.
“When my brother won the semifinal yesterday I was very happy. Then when I remembered I had to meet him in the final today I was shocked. It was one of us that had to stop the other from being the 2017 World Champion,” he said of the game.
The younger brother bagged the trophy of the World Open in 2017, British Open in 2015, 2016 and 2019, along with several other international tournaments and junior titles. He was also a member of Egypt’s winning team at the World Team Championship in 2017. He is currently ranked eighth in the world, though in 2018 he was at the number three spot.
Holding the world number two ranking, Ali Farag is currently one of the most successful Egyptian squash players. He sailed through 2019 with a steady grip on the top ranking worldwide, and won the World Open that same year.
The Harvard Mechanical Engineering graduate was a member of Egypt’s winning team at the World Team Championship in 2019 and 2017, and also won a number of international squash tournaments.
In October 2017, something spectacular happened in Farag’s career when he and Nour El Tayeb, Egyptian squash champion, and incidentally also his wife, won the US Open on the same day.
It’s not every day that a couple can compete simultaneously on a world stage, and Farag and El Tayeb did so in a most memorable manner.
“As a senior at college, I never thought about going pro, and to be here today,” said Farag upon his win at the 2019 PSA World Championship. “And the main driving force behind it is Nour, I’m deeply blessed to have her in my life, and she is the one who pushed me to go pro.”
El Tayeb, who was a member of Egypt’s winning team at the World Team Championship in 2012 and 2018, has dreamed of being within the world’s top five squash players since her junior career, and succeeded in achieving that dream.
Currently ranked World Number 2 and Number 5 respectively, Farag and El Tayeb are a true power couple in the world of sports.
Tae Kwon Do
Hedaya Malak Wahba
Hedaya Malak Wahba cartwheeled her way into the hearts of Egyptians when she emphatically celebrated her bronze medal in women’s 57 kg Tae Kwon Do in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
This win against Belgian athlete Raheleh Asemani made Wahba the second woman to win Egypt a medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and the first ever woman to snatch a Tae Kwon Do medal for any country in the Arab World.
The 26-year-old, who made her Olympic achievements at 23, has competed in dozens of international events, winning 22 international medals, seven of which were gold.
Wahba began training in the martial art at age 10, and trains at the Shooting Club (Nady El-Seid) in Greater Cairo.
Sara Ahmed Samir
At 18, Sarah Ahmed Samir made history as the youngest Egyptian to ever win an Olympic medal. She earned this accolade for her performance in Weightlifting at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
She has also been awarded multiple medals for her performances in African, Arab, and Mediterranean championships since 2012.
Although Samir is currently unable to compete at the Olympics due to the ban in place on the Egyptian weightlifting team as result of proven cases of doping among a handful of members, she has spoken out against the highly controversial practice of trainers administering stimulants without the athletes’ knowledge.
Growing up in a family passionate about weightlifting, Mohamed Ihab’s choice of sport was no surprise. But the 30-year-old’s internationally outstanding performance wowed Egyptians throughout the past decade as he grew to be the country’s most successful weightlifter.
Ihab’s interest in weightlifting began at the young age of eight, when he accompanied his brother to the weightlifting gym. Not many years after, he joined the Egyptian National Team, competing with others in the 56 kg category.
The Fayoum-born athlete brought home a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and one gold medal in 2017 and three silvers in 2014, 2015, and 2018 at the Weightlifting World Championship. He also snatched gold medals in the 2019 African Games, the 2018 Mediterranean Games, and the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games.
Though he was not proven to be among the athletes that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, the blanket ban on Egyptian weightlifting affected Ihab as well, and he retired when the ban took effect, despite his dream of winning a medal in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Ihab, who plans to focus on coaching upon his retirement, draws his inspiration from his late father, whose love for weightlifting pushed the decorated weightlifter to follow this career and receive international recognition.
Asmaa Al Zohairy
Though an athletic achiever for most of her life, it was not until the age of 27 that Asmaa Al Zohairy began to commit to the sport that has so far gained her the most accolades.
After spending years as an aerobics coach, CrossFit trainer, marathon runner, and triathlete, Al Zohairy decided to give in to her temptation to learn more about rowing, a sport she had long observed from the banks of the Nile in Zamalek.
And indeed, when she found an academy that trained athletes over the age of 23, she immersed herself in the sport and soon enough began competing nationally as well as internationally with the Egyptian National Rowing Team.
Currently holding the national record for indoor rowing, Al Zohairy rowed in the 2018 World Championship, and has combined her passion for rowing and being an instructor to found the rowing school ScullnBlades.
“I personally believe very strongly in the concept of giving back and would love so much for people to know more about the sport and not just my accomplishments,” Al Zohairy told CairoGyms earlier this year. “This is why I do coaching and it’s one of the main reasons I started ScullnBlades.”
Al Zohairy was named Egypt’s Nike Ambassador and she continues to work as a CrossFit coach alongside her work at ScullnBlades.
Manal Rostom made powerful ripples all over the world when she appeared in Nike’s Dream Crazier campaign as the athlete model showcasing their line of hijab-friendly sports clothing line.
Though the campaign was doubtlessly a controversial one, the high-profile appearance of an athlete donning the Islamic veil while doing sports was an empowering and long-awaited sight to many young women.
But the woman behind the symbol has had a far longer history with sports. Currently based in the UAE, Rostom has run 13 marathons to date, is the first Egyptian woman to run the Great Wall of China and five out of the six world major marathons. She also climbed two of the world’s highest peaks, Kilimanjaro and Elbrus, and is the first Egyptian woman to reach the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.
Rostom also created the Facebook group Surviving Hijab, a community of over 750,000 members strong, aimed at bringing together hijab-wearing women, and allowing them to express their solidarity with and support for one another.
“Women are strong achievers and it is just beautiful to see the narrative completely change to support diversity, gender equality and inclusivity,” Manal explains. “I am a bit biased as I have always fought for the presence of Muslim, Hijabi women in sports just to demolish the negative image of Muslim women worldwide being too lazy, boring or uncool.”
But in spite of her focus on empowering hijabis, Rostom does not want to limit her message only to one group of people. “It is not just about the hijab, but rather giving women a greater platform to be whoever they want, dream crazy and not be called crazy. Just passionate about life and their calling,” she explains.