Meet the Arab Athletes at the PyeongChang Olympics

Wednesday 14 March 201808:38 pm
The Arab world hardly welcomes snow, yet skiers from Lebanon and Morocco have competed in the 23rd Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Some 2900 athletes have vied for around 100 accolades in seven games and 15 competitions. Arab athletes put in performances that were regarded as auspicious, especially that most of them are young and still in the early stages of their careers. Also, some of them have represented their countries for the first time ever. The winter games usually see major changes. This year, four new sports made their Olympic debut: alpine skiing, speed skating, curling and snowboard.

Limited Yet Promising Participation

In PyeongChang, five Lebanese and Moroccan Olympians represented Arab Olympic dreams participating in both cross country skiing and alpine skiing.

Samer Tawk

He is a 19-year-old Lebanese competitor who finished in 109th place among 116 contenders in the 15km cross country skiing race. Some believe the result is promising considering his young age. Before his participation in the current Olympics, Tawk trained for two and a half years and took part in competitions in Turkey.

Natacha Mohbat

She was only three when her father carried her on his back while skiing in Fleming Island, Florida. When she turned four, he let her ski all by herself. "I know my chances are not very good because they [other competitors] train all the time," Mohbat commented on her participation in the ongoing games. "But I want to do better than any other Lebanese has ever done." A dual Lebanese-American citizen, she completed two runs in the alpine skiing, finishing 52nd vying with 78 competitors. Mohbat, who studies psychology at the Lebanese American University, could not partake in the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia due to injury, having torn her anterior cruciate ligament. The setback was "very depressing", she said. While Mohbat was sidelined, her brother Alex -- the top male skier in Lebanon in 2014 -- competed in the Sochi games.

Allen Behlok

He competed in two runs in alpine skiing, finishing 80th among 85 competitors in the first and 71st out of 75 in the second. A student at the Lebanese American University, the 19-year-old has taken part in three other international skiing competitions since 2015, including the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Switzerland.

Samir Azzimani

"I started skiing by chance," said Azzimani, who was born on the outskirts of Paris in 1977. The Moroccan-French man finished 11th among 119 competitors in the men's 15km cross country ski race. The 40-year-old sees his display and results as satisfactory, given that his training was not sufficient due to a "lack of budget". "We worked hard and we were really happy because we fulfilled our goal, which was to be between the first Olympic champions," he said. It is the second time for Azzimani to compete in the Winter Olympics after he featured in the 2010 games in Vancouver.

Adam Lamhamedi

Born in 1995 in Quebec to a Moroccan father and a Canadian mother, Lamhamedi won a competition for the first time ever when he was eight years old. In 2011, he decided to represent Morocco instead of Canada, having won a gold medal in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics -- an unprecedented feat for an African athlete. In the PyeongChang Olympics, he finished 53rd among 75 contenders in alpine skiing and cross country skiing.
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