Will any of the Lebanese athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro succeed in bringing home an Olympic medal after 36 years of wait?
Normally calm and plunged in an unexpected torpor, the siege of the Lebanese Olympic committee (LOC) was buzzing with agitation on the 9th of June. A multitude of Lebanese and Arab journalists had invested the local for the press conference of Mr. Jean Hammam (LOC President) announcing the composition of the Lebanese delegation that will cross the Atlantic in August.
If crowd there was, it was because, for the first time since 1980, Lebanon has a real chance of shining, and why not, earning one or even many Olympic medals (Yes we can!). At the least, Lebanon will be competitive in a high level international sporting event watched by no less than 3 billion people all over the globe. For a country of 10 452 Km2 and 4 million souls, this is surely of importance.
So, who are these athletes that stir such passionate attention from those sports journalists?
Far from being an army of the likes of the USA sending 555 athletes to Rio or China sending 416 delegates, the Lebanese delegation will hold 9 athletes and about 20 trainers and a multitude of officials (not to change good habits…).
The elite athletes are: the marathon runner Chirine Njeim, who’ll be at her 3rd Olympics after 2 winter ones ; The Asia fencing champion Mona Shaito ; The Judoka Nacif Elias winner of many international tournaments and Asia vice-Champ ; The winner of the Ping-Pong qualification tournament in Hong-Kong, Mariana Sahakyan ; the shooter Ray Basil, classified #1 in the world in “shoot trap??” ; The swimmers Gabrielle Doueihy and Anthony Barbar ; The kayakist Richard Merjan, 6th at the continental level ; and the sprinter Ahmad Hazer, once considered great hope for Asian athletics.
Although the chances of grabbing a medal are slim for our athletes competing at the Rio games, we have a legitimate hope of medals for Nacif Elias and Ray Bassil. Others like Mona Shaito, could at their best, create the surprise and go far in the competition. Anyway we wouldn’t wish them less than that!
Support from the authorities
If we can bet on great performances from our athletes, it’s because, other than being talented, they are very well prepared physically and mentally.
Once isn’t a habit, the Lebanese competing athletes at the Rio games have benefited, since early on in the season, from a customized follow up and preparation thanks to a financial support from the Lebanese Olympic Committee… A historic first in Lebanon!
This hasn’t been ignored during the press conference as Mr. Jean Hammam declared: “The LOC is making all efforts necessary to guarantee the well-being of the athletes qualified for Rio, in the hopes of them harvesting some medals”
As an example, the kayakist Richard Merjan was able to train two whole months (May to July) on the Olympic course in order to improve on his weaknesses. He’s presently perfecting his physical and mental preparation at Pau, in France.
A glorious past
The Lebanese delegation flying to the Olympic Games in a couple of days, will be capable of writing history, 36 years after Hassan Bechara’s Olympic Bronze Medal in the heavy weight category of Greco-Roman wrestling in Moscow.
3 other medals have been won by Lebanese champions in the modern era of the Olympic games:
- Helsinky 1952, Zakaria Chehab and Khalil Taha harvested respectively the silver and the bronze medals in Greco-Roman wrestling in light and mid-medium weight categories.
- Munich 1972, Mohamad Traboulsi earned the medium weight silver medal in weightlifting!
To note, Lebanon is part of the select 15 countries that never earned Olympic Gold! This, despite assiduous Lebanese participation since the Berlin Games in 1936. Hopefully our athletes will break this curse this summer in Brazil.
The editorial teams of the Lebanese diaspora websites Odiapora.org and RPLFrance.org will work together to bring you as close as possible to our nine fantastic ambassadors during the Olympic period. On top of discovering these champions, we will put all our efforts to make you follow their performances through our day by day exclusive coverage.
Please note that this Olympic coverage will be available in different languages on the Odiaspora.org website.
The Schedule of the Lebanese Athletes
Our nine national heroes will spring into action at the following dates and times (all times are provided in the GMT-1 format; Paris/Brussels Time):
- Mariana Sahakian (Ping-Pong): Saturday 6th of August at 2 PM (Paris time) ;
- Ray Bassil (trap): Sunday 7th of August at 2 PM;
- Richard Merlan (canoë-kayak): Sunday 7th of August at 5:30 PM ;
- Gabriella Doueihy (400 m freestyle swimming): Sunday 7th of August at around 7:35 PM ;
- Nacif Elias (Judo): Tuesday 9th of August at 3 PM;
- Mona Shaito (fleuret): Wednesday August 10th at 1:30 PM;
- Anthony Barbar (50 m freestyle swimming): Thursday 11th of August at 6 PM;
- Chirine Njeim (marathon): Sunday 14th of August at 1:40 AM? ;
- Ahmad Hazer (110m hurdles): Tuesday August 16th at 1:40 PM.