Jamil El-Reedy: Egypt's Lone Winter Olympics Participant
By Evan Ploeckelman / Arab America Contributing Writer
While many nations in the Arab World have participated in the Winter Olympics, these nations usually experience some form of snow, with nations like Lebanon, Algeria, and Morocco, with their large, snow capped mountains, regularly sending athletes to the winter games. Besides those three, however, only one other Arab nation has sent athletes to the Winter Olympics: Egypt. Their sole Winter Olympic athlete representing them, Jamil El Reedy, would be remembered not necessarily for his athletic performance, but for the sheer fact that he came from Egypt, a country where it does not snow.
While El Reedy represented Egypt in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, he did not grow up there, despite his birth in Cairo. After the Six Days war, his family left for the US, settling down in Plattsburgh, New York, where he spent his youth. His father, Hatem Abdul Aleem Jamil Abumalik Omar Mohammed El Reedy, and his mother, professors who previously taught English and the American University in Cairo, had prior skiing experience, so they taught El Reedy to ski on Mt. Whiteface in the Adirondacks near where he resided.
At the age of 18, El Reedy was selected to compete for Egypt in alpine skiing at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, despite never having competed internationally before. His father even recognized the ridiculousness of it: “I know an Egyptian skier in the Olympics sounds weird, we hear jokes, did he train by sliding down the pyramids?”
El Reedy, however, was determined to train for the event in Egypt, so, at the suggestion of his coach and his father, he spent 40 days in a snake and scorpion infested cave in the desert of Western Egypt. While one might have many questions as to how this would improve one’s skiing abilities, El Reedy thought it was a constructive experience: “I learned that the only security is in the mind.”
Despite this training, he did not perform all that well in Sarajevo. He placed 46 out of 101 competitors in the men’s slalom, 60 out of 61 in the men’s downhill, and failed to finish the men’s giant slalom after falling on the first run. He even performed worse than other competitors from Arab Nations like Lebanon and Morocco. Despite the religious trope of 40 days spent in the wasteland, it did not appear to improve his performance substantially. As of now, El Reedy is retired from competition.
Current State of Winter Olympics in the Arab World
However, this was back in 1984. Many athletes from Arab countries have access to snow that they did not have before, such as the UAE, which has indoor ski slopes, making winter sports much more accessible to the general population. On the other hand, countries like Syria and Iraq, have mountains that have snow in the winter (just look at Lebanon, Turkey, and Iran, who train on these same mountains and regularly send Winter Olympics athletes), but they are under utilized due to internal conflicts. If these conflicts would come to an end, we could see an influx of new, promising Arab Winter Olympics competitors.
While there has not been much history of Arabs competing in the Winter Olympics, changing conditions could allow for more Arab athletes competing in these sports. We will have to wait until the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing before we see if any more athletes from countries that have yet to participate, like Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, or any others decide to compete.
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