Egyptian weightlifter Sara Ahmed said she had blazed a trail for women athletes after becoming the first female from her country to stand on the Olympic podium with weightlifting bronze at Rio Wednesday.
Ahmed, wearing a sports hijab, lifted 255 kg in the women’s 69kg weightlifting competition to finish third behind Chinese gold medalist Xiang Yanmei and Kazakhstan’s Zhazira Zhapparkul, who claimed silver.
The 18-year-old Ahmed’s bronze was Egypt’s first weightlifting medal since 1948.
It was also the first awarded to a woman from the Arab country at an Olympics in any sport, however another was due to be awarded retrospectively.
“It’s a very great honor and I cannot express it,” she said on making history. “It’s not easy to compete here because all the athletes are very experienced,” Ahmed added.
Ahmed lifted 112 kg in the snatch and 143 kg in the clean and jerk. She broke into tears and sobbed uncontrollably, hugging her coach, as her podium finish was confirmed.
Her accolade comes after Egyptian lifter Abeer Abdelrahman finished 5th in the 2012 Olympics. The three medalists subsequently failed doping tests however and Abdelrahman was expected to receive a medal retrospectively.
Ahmed, who took up weightlifting aged 11, said she expected her historic appearance on the Olympic podium would help pave the way for other aspiring female athletes in Egypt.
“I expect that we will see better results after this,” she said.
Ahmed, who got into the sport because of her weightlifting brother, added that she had no had no idea about what kind of reception she would get when she returned to Egypt.
“I don’t know what will happen when I get home off the plane,” she said, smiling nervously.
Egypt used to be a powerhouse in weightlifting with it’s men winning a number of medals at the 1936 and 1948 Games but this was the Arab country’s first lifting medal in almost 70 years.
Women have only been competing in weightlifting at the Olympics since the Sydney Games in 2000.
In 2011 the International Weightlifting Federation approved the wearing of full-body unitards, benefiting Muslim women.
Ahmed finished 6 kg behind Xiang, who recovered from a nasty bang on the head to clinch gold.
Xiang was attempting to lift 118kg on her final attempt in the snatch when she dropped the barbell on the back of her head, jerking her neck forward and drawing gasps from the crowd.
She brushed off the incident to register 145 in the clean and jerk for a combined total of 261 and first place.
“I got hurt a little bit and it feels sore now when I nod my head. I just had to put the pain out of my mind during those clean and jerks,” she said.
It was China’s fourth weightlifting gold medal of the Rio Olympics.
Kazakhstan’s Zhapparkul claimed silver with a combined total of 259 kg.