Paralympics 2016: The Arab athletes to watch

Paralympics 2016: The Arab athletes to watch
Triumphing over adversity, these are the Arab world's inspiring Paralympians to cheer on in Rio.
4 min read
07 September, 2016
Egyptian powerlifter Fatma Omar is hoping for her fifth Paralympic gold [Getty]

In 1962 Egypt sent the first Arab Paralympian to compete in the games, held in Perth, Australia. Since then the Arab world’s elite disabled athletes have been going for gold.

After an inspiring show of determination and tenacity at London 2012, Rio is braced for its own two weeks of jaw-dropping Paralympic achievements.

Ahead of the opening ceremony tonight, here are the awesome Arab athletes to look out for:

Fatma Omar - Egypt

Now a legend in her own right, after earning a gold medal at every Paralympics since Sydney 2000, this Egyptian powerlifter has proved to be an unstoppable force, even  setting a new world record in London lifting 142kg.

Competing in her weight category of 56kg, she hopes to place first once again in Rio.

The 42-year-old mother of two has been powerlifting since the age of 19, not allowing the effects of polio, diagnosed aged one, hold her back in the sport.

In London, Omar dedicated her gold to her home country, saying:  “I am so happy and thrilled to win the gold medal. I am glad I lifted Egypt's name high today."

Ali Jawad – Great Britain

You might recognise this Lebanese-born powerlifter from the UK television adverts for Channel 4's Paralympics coverage. Jawad's road to Rio has not been easy.

Born without legs in 1989, doctors asked his father whether they should end his life, assuming in a country then in the throes of war there was no hope for a disabled child.

His parents came to Britain, where Jawad took up powerlifiting to improve his upper body strength. He hasn’t stopped since then.

Aged 19, he qualified for the Beijing Paralympics, but was unable to compete after Crohn’s disease took hold.

A technical fault in London denied him a silver, making him more determined to top the podium in Rio.

He told The Guardian recently: “Friday is arguably the biggest day of my life but I need to treat it as another gym session – a glorified gym session."

Sherif Osman - Egypt

Possibly scuppering Jawad’s quest for gold is Egypt’s Sherif Osman.

Previously training as a shot putter, Osman made his name in powerlifting in 2006 at the IPC Powerlifting World Championships, gaining silver.

With a couple of years of training, he went on to win gold in Beijing, breaking the world record three times before reaching the podium.

He defended his title in London in the men’s 56kg category, and in the 2014 World Championship in Dubai won gold in the men’s 54kg.

In Rio, he’s stepping up to the 59kg category, pitting himself against Team GB’s Jawad.

Mohammad Khamis Khalaf - United Arab Emirates

Having suffered leg paralysis caused by polio when he was a child and kept hidden from the world by his family, afraid his disbility would attract abuse from an unaccepting society, makes Khalaf's achievements even more remarkable.

In Athens 2004, this powerlifting powerhouse scooped UAE’s first Paralympic gold medal in the 217kg weight category.

Despite going medal-less in London because of an injury, the 46-year-old veteran will be hoping his decades of experience will earn him another medal in the 88kg catergory.

Garrah Nassar Tnaiash, Iraq

After scoring the best qualifying shot put among the F40 (short stature) men, Tnaiash is heading to Rio hoping to secure his first Paralympic gold.

Walid Ktilia - Tunisia

Paralympians on the starting line alongside Ktilia will have to work pretty hard to deny this athlete a medal.

The Tunisian won four golds at the 2015 World Championship in Doha for each of the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metre wheelchair races, scoring the fastest qualifying time among the T34 (coordination impairment) men.

He already has two Paralympic golds from London 2012 under his belt, and with world records to his name, Ktila is certainly one to watch in Rio.