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When a 16-year-old Sara Ahmed walked on to the weightlifting platform at the YOG Nanjing 2014, few could have predicted that the diminutive 1.55m athlete would become a giant of the sport. Having taken up weightlifting just four years earlier – following in the footsteps of her father and brother – the YOG were the biggest stage that the Egyptian had competed on, yet she rose to the occasion magnificently to claim gold in the 63kg event, beating Mexico’s Ana Duran Ayon and Ukraine’s Sofiya Zenchenko.
Looking back now, Ahmed appreciates the influence her YOG experiences have had on her career.
“The Youth Olympic Games are one of the biggest competitions I have ever participated in, and had the greatest impact on the development of my performance,” she says.
Despite her success on the YOG stage, Ahmed admits that she was nervous before the competition.
“Yes, oh yes, because I was so small and the competition was so strong, but thank God I achieved my goal and won the medal.”
Just two years after her starring performance at the YOG, Ahmed rewrote the record books at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 by becoming the first-ever female Egyptian athlete to win an Olympic medal in any sport. Her historic bronze in the 69kg event was also the first Olympic weightlifting medal by an Arab woman, with the then 18-year-old following up a 112kg lift in the snatch with 143kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 255kg – a personal best by 10kg. Her impressive effort was enough to seal the bronze medal behind China’s Yanmei Xiang and Zhazira Zhapparkul from Kazakhstan – and also made her a role model for Arab women across the world.
“I was proud to achieve a greater goal and to improve the role of women in Egypt and Arab countries,” says Ahmed. “It emphasised the role of women in the Arab world, and that this is not less than the role of men in all fields.”
Ahmed also takes great joy in the fact that more women are now taking up the sport because of her achievements.
“Many athletes do weightlifting to be like me and I am so proud of that – to be a reason for increasing the number of female athletes in weightlifting, and also in other sports, to raise and increase their role in sports,” she says. “Female athletes tell me they were very happy and proud [when Ahmed won bronze in Rio], and started looking forward to achieving and being like me in their fields, always looking to reach the high levels and be the best.”
And as she targets a first World Championship medal next week and Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2020, Ahmed is in no doubt about how important the YOG can be to an athlete’s development.
“The Youth Olympic Games equip young athletes to prepare for even greater goals and be experienced to be able to participate in stronger championships, such as the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”