Qatar Wins First Medal for the Region

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Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiya discharges the round from his rifle during the men’s skeet qualification round at the Royal Artillery Barracks during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (BRITAIN)

Congratulations are in order to the diminutive Gulf country, which just won the region’s first medal. The medal, a bronze, went to skeet shooter Nasser Al-Attiya today.

The 41-year-old Al-Attiya, whose Olympic profile says his nickname is “The Joker,” is also a rally driver. His brother, Abdulaziz Al-Attiya, is also a competitive shooter. This is his first time competing in the Olympic Games.

This is Qatar’s eighth Games, and its third medal.

Women of the Middle East Are Shooting for Gold

Qatar’s Bahya Mansour Al Hamad takes aim during the women’s 10m air rifle qualification competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich in southeast London July 28, 2012. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN)

Why is shooting such a popular sport for women in the region?  Since it was introduced in 1984, the sport has seen widespread participation from women in the region.  It was the first sport into which Iran entered a woman—Manijeh Kazemi in 2000—and has continued to gain popularity in that country, as well as others.

One hypothesis as to its popularity may lie in the fact that it’s easy for governments to accept women’s participation, due to kits that cover the athlete from head to toe.  There is no conflict, for example, between the shooter’s uniform and hijab: This year, at least seven female competitors from six countries wear the headscarf.  And while the sport most certainly requires skill and precision, it does not require elaborate facilities or overall physical fitness.  This year, among the female shooters was eight-months-pregnant Malaysian competitor Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, who found out about her pregnancy shortly after qualifying for the Olympics. Continue reading

Gymnastics Going Global

For decades, Olympic artistic gymnastics has been dominated by a handful of countries: Russia, Romania, and the United States, to name a few. The 2008 Games saw China make leaps and bounds in the sport (pun intended), but there still remains a global gap in participation.

This partly lies in the issue of training: Gymnastics—more than say, running or swimming—requires that equipment be up-to-date and that coaches be experienced. Nevertheless, the international gymnastics federation is working toward inclusion, cutting the size of teams from six to five in order to include more solo athletes from other countries.

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The Region Dominates Men’s Boxing Light Heavy (81kg) Round of 32

In the Men’s Boxing Light Heavy (81kg) Round of 32 on Monday, men of the region did exceptionally well, with five advancing to the next round, which takes place on August 4.

Iran’s Ehsan Rouzbahani (L) reacts after his fight with Colombia’s Jeysson Monroy Varela (R) in the men’s Light Heavy (81kg) Round of 32 boxing match at ExCeL venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 30, 2012. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (BRITAIN)

Jordan’s Ihab Almatbouli, Tunisia’s Yahia Elmekachari, Turkey’s Bahram Muzaffer, Iran’s Ehsan Rouzbahani, and Algeria’s Abdelhafid Benchabla will all compete in the Round of 16. At least one of the men is guaranteed to go to the quarterfinals, as Rouzbahani and Muzaffer are set to fight one another. Continue reading

Egypt’s Football Dreams Kept Alive

Egypt’s Mahmoud Alaa Eldin (L) challenges New Zealand’s Shane Smeltz during their men’s Group C football match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Old Trafford, Manchester, northern England July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Andrea Comas (BRITAIN)

Just three days after Egypt’s men’s football team was defeated 3-2 by gold medal favorite Brazil, the team got a second chance at a medal after tying with New Zealand during Sunday’s match.

As AP sports writer Tales Azzoni wrote last week, Egypt’s Olympic foray isn’t just about winning: it’s also about restoring national pride six months after the stadium riot in which 74 people lost their lives.
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Spotlight on Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar marches in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN)

The smiling faces of Saudi Arabia’s first two female Olympians were on full display as the young women marched in the athletes’ parade during Friday’s opening ceremony. 19-year-old runner Sarah Attar and heavyweight judoka Wojdan Shaharkhani broke barriers to get to London this year, after the International Olympic Committee threatened Saudi Arabia with ban if they didn’t allow women’s participation. Continue reading

The Sad Tale of Mariem Alaoui Selsouli

Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco celebrates after winning ahead of Asli Cakir-Alptekin of Turkey (R) in the women’s 1,500 meters at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, near Paris July 6, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes (FRANCE)

Mariem Alaoui Selsouli is a decorated Moroccan athlete. Born in the southern city of Marrakesh, the middle- and long-distance runner most recently came in 2nd at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in the women’s 1500m.

But Selsouli’s athletic career has been troubled. Continue reading

Maher Abu Rmeileh: Palestine’s Best Chance for Gold

Palestinian judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh (R) folds a scarf at his father’s shop in Jerusalem’s Old City June 18, 2012. When Abu Rmeileh makes his bow on the Olympic judo mat in London this month, he will become the first Palestinian to compete at a Games on merit. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM)

In 1996, not long after the Oslo Accords, Palestine sent its first-ever team to the Olympics. The two-person team, both runners from Gaza, didn’t do so well in Atlanta: Majdi Abu Marahil, the team’s 32-year-old flag-bearer, came in last place in the first round heats of the Mens 10,000m race; distance runner Ehab Salama did not place, either.

The Palestinian Olympic team has come a long way. Though still small, it’s the biggest team yet, with two athletes (Bahaa Al Faraa competing in the men’s 400m and Woroud Sawalha in the women’s 800m), two swimmers (Ahmed Jibral in the men’s 400m freestyle and Sabine Hazboun in the women’s 50m freestyle) and one judoka, Maher Abu Rmeileh.

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The Olympics Opening Ceremony: Carrying Flags for the Region

Lebanon’s flag bearer Andrea Paoli holds the national flag as she leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake (BRITAIN)

The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games was full of spectacles and complete with performances and appearances by some of Great Britain’s most famous musicians, artists, and athletes from Paul McCartney to David Beckham.

But for sports fans, the athletes’ parade is the highlight of the evening. This year, 10,500 athletes from more than 200 countries are competing in the hopes of bringing home a gold. Every country in the Middle East and North Africa is also represented, from Egypt’s enormous 113-person team to the 2-person team of Mauritania. And, for the first time ever, every country in the region is sending at least one woman to compete. Continue reading