The Closing Ceremony is complete, and the athletes are headed home. For the Middle East and North Africa, this year’s Olympic Games had its fair share of ups and downs, from controversies over costumes and last-minute disqualifications to the emergence of new superstars and the ground gained by female athletes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In the end, athletes from ten countries across the region took home medals, with Iran taking a clear lead.
Iran placed 17th in the overall medal count, the country’s best since the 1956 Melbourne Games, when it placed 14th. Tunisia achieved a personal best, with three medals, as did Qatar, which took home two. The Olympics brought disappointment for athletes from some countries in the region, however. Israel, which had consistently medaled since 1992, did not have any wins this year, nor did Lebanon, which hasn’t medaled since 1980. Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the UAE, Syria, and Palestine also went home empty-handed.
The London Games should be remembered for its unique milestones. In the first year that Women’s Boxing was allowed, two North African countries (Tunisia and Morocco) sent competitors. Egypt sent its largest female delegation ever, including participants in synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, both firsts for the country. Turkey—which has a bid for the 2020 Olympics—sent 18 more men than women to London. And women from the region qualified for the finals in countless events.
All in all, 2012 should be seen as a great year for the region’s athletes, with a hope for even more progress to come in 2016.