Lebanese athletes have high hopes for Tokyo Olympics
Forty-one years after their country last received a medal at the Olympic Games, Lebanese athletes have high hopes of winning at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics despite the unprecedented economic and political crises Lebanon is suffering.
A total of six athletes from Lebanon are taking part in the games, which were postponed until this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They are Noureddine Hadid, who will take part in the Men’s 200 metres, Nacif Elias in Men’s under 81 kg judo, Ray Bassil in Women’s trap shooting, Mahassen Fattouh in Women’s 76kg weightlifting, and Munzer Kabbara and Marie Khoury, who will take part in Men’s 400m individual medley and Women’s 50m freestyle swimming.
Pierre Jalkh, the head of the Lebanese National Olympic Committee, believes that at least three athletes have the ability to win a medal at Tokyo 2020.
"We have hope in all the participants, but the players who qualified through competition are the ones who have the capacity to win medals. As for the ones who received invitations, we hope they’ll benefit from taking part and offer their best efforts, improving their performance," he said.
The last Lebanese to win a medal was Hassan Bishara, who received a silver in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Before that, three Lebanese athletes won medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Lebanon is pinning its hopes most of all on 32-year-old trap shooter Ray Bassil, who won a gold medal at the 2015 Arab Shooting Championship and on 32-year-old judoka Nacif Elias, who has won many medals at regional and international championships.
Thirty-two-year-old Mahassen Fattouh is also a rising star in women’s weightlifting, ranked 12th in the world.
Bassil will carry the Lebanese flag at the opening ceremony in Tokyo. On Facebook she wrote: "Despite all the crises my country has gone through and all the difficulties it has faced, the name of Lebanon can still shine. I can’t describe my happiness at carrying my country’s flag!"
Jalkh said that the Lebanese Olympic Committee had done everything it can to provide training and assistance to the athletes taking part. Bassil had trained at a camp in Italy under international shooting coach Marco Conti, while Nacif and Fattouh had received assistance from the Olympic Solidarity Fund.
He pointed out the difficulties in preparing for the Olympics in a country affected by a severe economic crisis.
"There's no doubt that shooting is a very costly sport and the economic crisis in Lebanon has negatively affected it. The banking crisis has also been a great obstacle to providing funds to spend on the sport."
Bassil hopes that she will give the Lebanese people something to celebrate after they experienced coronavirus, poverty, and political instability over the past year.
"I will go to Tokyo… and my goal is to spread joy among the Lebanese people, who need victory and happiness through everyone in the [Olympic] team," she said.
"Hopefully this will help this steadfast people see past the crises they’re living through today."
This article is part of The New Arab's special coverage of the Tokyo Olympics. Click here to read the whole series.