Who to Watch from the Arab World in the 2021 Summer Olympics
By Evan Ploeckelman / Arab America Contributing Writer
The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin in less than a month on July 23rd, with athletes from all over the world competing to be the very best. While countries in the Arab World have not experienced the same success as larger countries like China, Russia, or the US, there are many strong contenders this year who have the chance of earning a medal, or, at the very least, performing extremely well. While listing every athlete with potential from every country in the Arab World would be much too long, here are some athletes you should look for during the upcoming 2021 Olympics.
Abderrahmane Samba: Hurdles
Born in Saudi Arabia but of Mauritanian descent, Abderrahmane Samba has a high chance of earning a medal for Qatar in the 400 meter hurdles. He had recently placed first in the 400 meter hurdles at the Asian Games and IAAF Continental Cup in 2018, and the Asian Championships in 2019. He also placed third at the World Championships in 2019. At this point in his career, he has already surpassed American hurdles legend Ed Moses with a time of 46.98. While his time at the World Championships in Doha in 2019 was considerably slower at 48.03, he still has a good chance of making it big in the Olympics by earning a medal. He has shown some of his training on his Instagram page. Let’s see if it pays off.
Soufiane El Bakkali: Steeplechase
This steeplechase runner participated in the 2016 Olympics, placing fourth. Since then, he placed 2nd in the 2017 World Championships and 2018 African Championships, 1st in the 2018 Mediterranean Games, and 3rd in the 2019 African Games and World Championships. The steeplechase is a 3000 meter long obstacle race where participants jump over small barriers and run or jump through pools of water. This is one of the more challenging events in the Olympics, and El Bakkali has been training especially hard since his 3rd place finishes in 2019. In fact, he recently obtained a personal record time in the 1500 meter run at 3:31.95 at the 2021 Doha Diamond League. With improvements like these, he will be fun to watch in Tokyo.
Ons Jabeur: Tennis
While Ons Jabeur has previously participated in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, she has made notable strides in the past year that will make the 2021 Olympics quite different. In 2020 she became the first Arab woman to make it to the quarter finals in the Australia Open due to her surprise victories against players like Caroline Wozniacki and Johanna Konta. A month later, she beat number 3 player Karolina Pliskova and placed 16th at the Roland Garros. She was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year and is the highest ranked Arab female tennis player of all time at number 31. Jabeur is now looking at a strong 2021 Olympic performance, so she will be fun to watch in the upcoming month.
Ray Bassil: Trap Shooting
The first Arab woman to join the trap shooting scene, Ray Bassil has made her mark on the sport. She first competed at the World Championships when she was 16, and participated in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. While she was ranked number 1 going into the 2016 Olympics, she did not reach the finals. However, this year she intends on earning the first medal for Lebanon since 1980 and becoming the first woman to do so. Her approach to training has changed since 2016: “Now I’m taking a different path, a different kind of training. Definitely I’m more mature in my preparation, the environment I’ve placed myself in always, not to over-think about it like I used to. So there are many things I’m really trying to work on.”
Mohammad Al Khatib: Sprints
Palestine has not obtained any medals at the Olympic games, but Mohammad Al Khatib wants to change that. A 200 and 400 meter sprinter, he wants to be the first Palestinian to earn an Olympic medal for Palestine. While he was not able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, he has been consistently dropping time and hopes to qualify in 2021. He has faced numerous challenges along the way. There are not very many places to train in Palestine, and the place he used to train at has been bulldozed over. He is currently training in Houston under his coach Bill Collins, a U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame sprinter. We will see how far his efforts have taken him in the coming month.
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