In the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games, there was much speculation on how the Middle East and North Africa would fare. Although Turkey is the only Middle Eastern country to medal thus far (in athletics, weightlifting, and Greco-Roman wrestling), North Africa is enjoying great success. So far, Egypt's Hesham Mesbah and Algeria's Soraya Haddad and Amar Benikhlef have all medaled in Judo (bronze, bronze, and silver, respectively), Morocco's Hasna Benhassi took home a bronze in the women's 800m dash, and Tunisian swimmer Oussama Mellouli scored gold in the men's 1500m freestyle.
The official Tunisia.com blog congratulated Mellouli on taking home Tunisia's first gold medal in 40 years:
Congratulations to Oussama Mellouli who dug in when it counted to beat the legendary Grant Hackett over the 1500 meters swim in the games.
In what is a tough event Oussama beat the odds and delivered the first gold for over 40 years!
Algeria.com details Algeria's Olympic history, shares the stats so far, and gives a bit of encouragement:
It is hoped that between the track athletes and the boxers that Algeria will be able to add a few more medals to their collection, and walk away from another successful Olympic Games. Algeria has shown their ability to be worthy competitors and it seems that every year they are growing in strength and diversity.
Morocco's The View from Fez shared the exciting news of Hasna Benhassi's bronze medal, Morocco's first in Beijing, praising the runner for her success:
Benhassi was already among the greatest Moroccan women athletes in history even before her silver medal 800m performances in the Athens Olympics and the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005 and Osaka in 2007. She had won gold at 800m in the 2000 African Championships and at 1500m in the 2001 World Indoor Championships in Lisbon, becoming only the second female Moroccan athlete, after Nezha Bidouane, to win a World Championship title. But she has remained very much in the shadow of her brilliant compatriot, Hicham El Guerrouj.
Although Libya has not yet won a medal, its bloggers have been talking about the Olympics. Anglo-Libyan blogged the opening ceremonies and discussed swimmer Asmahan (Mercedes) Farhat‘s first race:
Yesterday I watched the swimming heats on BBC but they never showed the 100-meter breaststroke that Asmahan Farhat took part in, the picture on the left is Asmahan getting ready for her swim, she did not do that well although she did manage to break her own record but she enjoyed taking part, you can read her blog entry, it was funny reading how she was dressed in an east Libyan costume by old ladies, to me this is the best and most beautiful Libyan costume.
Farhat, a Libyan-American competing for Libya, wrote a blog post for her local U.S. newspaper about participating in the Olympics, and said this about getting to warm up in the same lane as Michael Phelps:
During warm up I got to swim in his lane. That's right, right next to him and I will honestly say that nothing makes you swim faster than when Michael Phelps is swimming behind you and you don't want to get in his way!
When he swims past you, you can feel the power that he pushes the water with and how smooth he moves in the water. Most swimmers I've swam in a lane with you can feel them fighting the water and the waves are choppy, but when he swims next to you there are barely any forceful waves.
It is unbelievable, it's almost like the waters moving with him. It was the most memorable warm-up swim I've ever swam for sure!
Although bloggers are proud of what their countrymen have accomplished, one blogger feels that Arab countries could do more. Musings of a Proud Arab posted on the eighth Olympic day, frustrated by the lack of Arab medalists. The Jordanian blogger, who lives in the UAE, encourages Arab countries to unite for the gold:
We should not be there just to participate for our national flags to fly within the Olympic Village and in the Parade of Nations. This got me thinking and I want to share a solution with you; have ALL of the 22 Arab countries contribute half of their budgets to a collective consolidated budget that will be used as a Regional Trial to choose the BEST ARAB ATHLETES and train them to bring us gold.There are several reasons for this; 1) the Arab common person is united in their support of Arabs in the Olympics as it reflects on all of us (where we are really united), 2) it allows the countries to still have their symbolic participation in the Olympics (with half their budget), and 3) it will derive the athletes of the poor excuse that I did not perform because I did not have the support, especially financial from my National Olympic Committee.After all, the Arab countries combined have the same population of the United States. And we never hear complaints from them that on there are too many Californians with their Olympic athletes and not a single Alaskan!So, will this be an ideal or can the League of Arab States seriously work on achieving it from 2009? As a corporate person, I would place 12 gold medals as our target for 2012 London Olympics!
Is it reasonable for a nation to make its honour conditional on the outcome of a football match, a long-distance race, or a snail race?
I really do believe that the Arab athlete’s performance is at best abysmal and really bellow par. They managed two gold medals. One was from the “Moroccan born” Bahraini Ramzi, the other from a Tunisian swimmer and few medals here and there. The results for a nation of nearly 300 million people (similar population to Europe or the USA) are in fact disgraceful. Our friends in the golf went into a shopping spree literally buying second class Kenyan athletes that so far have not managed between all of them not even one gold medal. The fact of the matter is we are a nation that lost its confidence and no longer able to assert itself in any aspect of human civilisation, be it art, music, sport, literature or anything else. Mismanagement and bad governance are the main factors of this calamity. The entire sporting programs through the Arab world have simply failed even after all the resources and money that were thrown at it. You need people to make champions not check books.