Arab athletes on road to Paris 2024: Iraq U23 footballers qualify, Barshim comes into form

Lebanese shooter Bassil warms up with gold medal at ISSF World Cup

Mutaz Barshim of Qatar will defend his Olympic high jump crown in Paris. EPA
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We are inching closer and closer to the start of the Olympics and more Arab athletes and teams have managed to secure their spots in Paris.

Those who have already qualified have been busy getting competition-ready and sending out early signals of intent ahead of the action in the French capital.

Here are some of the latest updates on the Road to Paris 2024.

Lebanese shooter ends eight-year drought

Ray Bassil’s final preparations for a fourth consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games are off to a tremendous start as the Lebanese trap shooter clinched gold at the ISSF World Cup last week in Baku.

The 35 year old already punched her ticket to Paris by winning the Asian Championships in Changwon last year and has received a huge confidence boost by topping the podium in Baku, her first World Cup gold since Nicosia in 2016.

“For me, it is special because it’s bringing back a lot of confidence. And just to assess my whole training from the beginning of the year until today. I’m super happy that my work is paying off,” she said in an interview with the International Shooting Sport Federation.

“I really hope it’s going to be a good kick-off for the Olympics. It’s just a step forward.”

This is Bassil’s sixth World Cup medal overall and it saw her defeat Australia’s early leader Penny Smith, finishing off the final with a perfect five.

“It brings back a lot of memories because I won my first silver medal here in Baku in 2016. So bringing back history for me and for my country, I think this is the best thing ever,” added an elated Bassil.

Trap women’s qualification at the Paris Olympics begins on July 30, with the second day of qualification as well as the final taking place on July 31.

Iraq back at the Games

A 2-1 extra-time win over Indonesia in the bronze medal game at the AFC U23 Asian Cup earlier this month sent Iraq through to the men’s football competition at the Olympics for a sixth time.

It was a 96th-minute strike from Ali Jasim – his fourth of the tournament – that broke the deadlock in Doha and it sees Iraq join Morocco and Egypt as the three Arab nations taking part in men’s football in Paris this summer.

Iraq are back in the Olympics for the first time since 2016. Their best result came in Athens 2004 when they reached the semi-finals with wins over Portugal, Costa Rica and Australia, before falling to Paraguay in the semi-final and to Italy in the bronze-medal game.

Iraq have landed in Group B at the Paris Olympics alongside Argentina, Morocco and Ukraine, and will kick off their campaign against Ukraine on July 24.

Egyptian gymnasts are Paris-bound

After Egypt managed to qualify an entire team in rhythmic gymnastics, thanks to their gold medal-winning performances at the African Championships in Kigali last month, two artistic gymnasts have also booked their places in Paris: Jana Mahmoud and Omar Mohamed.

Mahmoud, 19, will be making her Olympic debut after she claimed three individual gold medals, in the all-around, uneven bars and floor exercise, as well as helping Egypt clinch team gold at the African Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Marrakesh last week.

Mohamed, 25, won all-around gold in Marrakesh to punch his ticket to a second appearance at the Olympics, after making his debut in Tokyo three years ago.

El Sissy tops podium in Seoul

With a nail-biting 15-13 win over Georgia’s Sandro Bazadze, Egyptian fencer Ziad El Sissy won gold at the Seoul Sabre Grand Prix last week.

Already qualified for a second Olympics appearance, El Sissy has now risen to a career-high No 2 in the world rankings and will no doubt be a medal contender in Paris this summer.

In an episode of the podcast Abtal, El Sissy revealed he considered quitting fencing after the Tokyo Olympics, where team Egypt fell short of making the sabre podium and finished fifth instead.

“I was really depressed after Tokyo because I wanted to get my dad’s dream [of winning an Olympic medal], especially after he passed away in 2014,” El Sissy said.

“But then thank God, with my family and Nouran [my wife], they were able to get me back and I was able to push myself back and I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to quit. I’m going to keep pursuing this and hopefully make my dad proud'.”

Since then, El Sissy has won bronze at the World Championships, was crowned champion at the Mediterranean Games and is now the second-best sabre fencer in the world.

Barshim wins inaugural ‘What Gravity Challenge’

Qatari high jump star Mutaz Barshim kicked off his Olympic season two weeks ago at the first stop of the Diamond League in Xiamen, China, where he took silver behind American Shelby McEwen – both cleared 2.27m.

Barshim, who is looking to defend his Olympic title in Paris this summer, also claimed silver in the league’s second stop, in Suzhou, clearing 2.29m, before flying to Doha, where he hosted and won the inaugural 'What Gravity Challenge', a special meet staged at the Katara Amphitheatre, featuring some of the best high jumpers in the world.

Barshim, the founder of the event, jumped a season-best 2.31m to secure the gold.

The Doha native, 32, will be bidding for a fourth consecutive high jump medal at the Olympics this summer, to go with the silver medals he picked up in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and the gold he took in Tokyo 2020.

Barshim provided one of the most memorable moments of the Tokyo Games when he and Italian Gianmarco Tamberi decided to share the gold medal instead of going to a jump-off.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 2:36 AM