Farida Osman: Egyptian Olympic Swimmer Breaking Records and Barriers
By: Pamela Dimitrova/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Farida Osman may only be 24 years old, but she’s already making lasting strides towards shattering stereotypes about Arab women in sports, one record-breaking race at a time.
Whether it’s medaling at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships and becoming the first Egyptian swimmer to do so, or it’s competing at two Olympic Games and setting a new African record, Osman is transforming the perception of female Arab athletes around the world.
Farida Osman was born on January 18, 1995. Although raised in Cairo, Egypt, Osman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has represented Egypt on the international platform and has performed gold-medal swims. Standing 5’8″ in height, Osman specializes in the sprint butterfly and freestyle events. Her parents, Randa Elsalawy and Hisham Osman are both dentists who attended IUPUI in Indianapolis.
Farida started her swimming career at the early age of four alongside her brother, Ahmed, and she made her first Egyptian Olympic team by the age of 17. She said she wanted to learn how to swim as a safety measure, not for competing and was initially put on a waiting list, but just days before the 2012 Olympic Games she received her first invitation.
Osman is seen as a symbol of hope in media outlets, not only for the low representation of Arab women who compete in the Olympics but because in the entire history of the Olympic Games only five African women have won a medal in swimming. In 2013, recruiting class Osman was the no. 12 overall, and was apart of a Cal recruiting class that was compromised of four of the top 12 recruits.
The Egyptian swimmer also won the bronze medal in the women’s 50m butterfly final at the 2019 World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea after finishing third in the final with a time of 25.47 seconds.
“Yes I Am Egyptian but I Can Be Faster Than Others”
At a very early age, the aspiring athlete had to learn to balance between her academics and her sports career. Waking up at 6:30 am every day, she would finish school by 3 pm, followed by four hours of fitness and swimming training. After a long day, she would have to start her schoolwork at 9 pm in the evening.
This challenging daily routine, as well as the lack of support she felt for playing a less loved sport than the ever-popular football, was the first of many challenges the young athlete struggled to overcome. “Between 15 and 18 years old, I didn’t like swimming at all. No one supported me and all my friends would go out and travel while I was training all the time,” Osman says. “It was a very difficult phase and if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. They have been supporting me since I was very young and they later supported me to travel to the U.S. which also helped me a lot.”
Farida Osman recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, having completed her studies in marketing and advertising. She had been offered a full sports scholarship to swim for the university, which was her perfect chance to pursue her academics and sports career at a university that excels in both. As a freshman, Osman qualified for the 2014 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships and placed eighth in the 100m butterfly. She also earned NCAA All-America honors and later won the team’s “Most Improved” award.
“At the end of the day, it’s your journey, you’re in control of it. Just do whatever it takes until it becomes a reality. Commitment, discipline, sacrifice, patience.”
Though there were a lot of advantages in the U.S., there were different challenges, Osman says. “The coach didn’t know much about what swimming is like in Egypt, so I always had to prove myself and that I am as good as the others are… ‘Yes I am Egyptian but I can be faster than others,’” she recalls telling him, adding that the competition was very strong and keeping her place on the team required continuous effort.
Making a Change
“The stereotype about Middle Eastern women is not really excelling in sports,” said Osman in an interview with Vogue. “I try my best to change that and try to inspire and encourage young female athletes to pursue sports in general.”
Leading a generation of strong women and inspiring strong generations of women to follow, many of the speakers had nuggets of wisdom for the local youth to not only perpetuate the cycle of awareness but also enact positive societal change — no matter what it takes.
“I would say to young Arab girls that please pursue sports,” concluded Osman. “At the end of the day, it’s your journey, you’re in control of it. Just do whatever it takes until it becomes a reality. Commitment, discipline, sacrifice, patience.”
Farida Osman was also s the sole African female swimmer of the FINA Champions Swim Series in 2019. Osman, who trains in Virginia takes this responsibility very seriously:
“I am originally from Egypt but I train in the U.S. I am really proud to be representing not only Egypt and Africa but also people from the Middle-East in general. I feel like we need a lot more representation of that area. I am really honored and proud. Hopefully, I can inspire more swimmers to want to achieve great things and also represent this region of the world.”
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