July 30 will hopefully be a very long day for 26-year-old Judoka Hussein Hafiz. That day marks his Olympic debut in Judo, with all matches for his weight class to be held over eight hours — from the first elimination rounds to the final matches determining the gold, silver and bronze medals. Competing in the under-73kg division, the law graduate from Ain Shams University has been focused solely on his sport since 1999, with hopes that at the end of the day, he’ll be wearing one of those medals.
Based on the martial art jujitsu, Judo is a traditional Japanese form of wrestling which involves throwing the opponent to the floor or holding him in submission for nearly 30 seconds. Matches last at most five minutes, but a successful throw or hold could end the match in just seconds.
Hafiz is one of five Egyptians competing in the London 2012 Games. “My dream ever since I was a kid was to get an Olympic medal, and hopefully this year I get to achieve that so I can make my country and family proud,” says Hafiz, who could only spare a few minutes for an interview in between the last-minute training sessions at Shams Club before the national Judo team flew to London. Edited excerpts:
How long have you been a Judo player? When did you start and why did you choose to play Judo?
I have been playing Judo since I was five years old. My father was a Judo champion himself, and so I’m following in his footsteps.
Can you tell us a bit about the competition and which Judo category you will be playing in?
The competition this year should be quite challenging since I get to compete against the top 34 senior players worldwide in my weight category. My weight class is playing on July 30, and I will be playing all my matches in one day, starting with the elimination round of 64, moving on to 32, and then 16. After that, quarterfinals will take place, followed by the semifinals and then the finals.
Courtesy of Hussein Hafeez
What are your expectations?
It’s a dream for any athlete to participate in the Olympics, but my dream doesn’t stop there. My dream is to get a medal.
What are the biggest challenges you ever faced as an athlete?
I have been on the Egyptian national Judo team for 10 years facing a lot of competitions and challenges to excel, but my biggest and most challenging one was at the last African Championship [in Agadir, Morocco in April] in which I achieved first place. That qualified me for this year’s Olympic games.
What are your plans for the future as an athlete?
I dream to be an Olympic medalist more than once in my lifetime and a World Champion.
What do you think of Judo in Egypt?
Judo in Egypt as a whole has a very strong base. However, I believe that we as a team can be a lot better. Our Egyptian national Judo team has five players in this year’s Olympics, and we are top ranked internationally. In the last Olympic games, the only medal won by Egypt was in Judo, which means Judo is one of Egypt’s strengths in the Olympics. I believe with our promising athletes we should be able to achieve much more than one medal in any Olympic games. et
Hussein Hafiz, Judo
• Ranked 26 worldwide by the International Judo Federation, as of June 2012
• Ranked 18 on the Olympic rankings
• National judo champion multiple times
• Two time gold medalist at the Arab Games
• Two-time bronze medalist at the Judo World Cup
• Gold medalist at the 2012 African Championships
• Placed 9th at the 2010 Tokyo Judo World Championship