This 14-year-old figure skater has her sights set to represent Egypt at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea
By Omneya Makhlouf
Like many girls her age, Amira Abdul Moati has a dream — to represent Egypt at the Olympics. The unusual part: this 14-year-old Egyptian-Russian wants to compete in the winter games as the nation’s first Olympic figure skater. With more than a decade of training under her belt, she is in the midst of this year’s competition season with her sights on the 2018 Olympics in Korea.
And she has a good shot at it. Born in the United Arab Emirates to an Egyptian father and a Russian mother, Amira has been competing in national figure skating competitions since she was five years old, and in international tournaments since she was 10. Now, she wows audiences with impeccable limberness showcased in her spins, jumps and fleet, fancy footwork, and has at least nine first place finishes at UAE tournaments.
Amira was inspired by her mother Iman Mohamed (formerly known as Larissa Zaplatinskaia) to take up figure skating. The girl was only three and a half years old at the time. “My mom had been skating for a year already, and when I saw her I asked her if I could do the same and she said ‘Yes you can try it’,” recalls Amira. “I decided to try, and I really liked it.”
When Amira was four, Mohamed started teaching her daughter the arts of figure skating herself. “I downloaded special programs from Russian websites and I trained her every day,” she says, “She also had a special coach in gymnastics so she could have ground training.”
By age five, however, Amira needed more professional guidance, so Mohamed made a bold move: She sent Amira to Russia to train with three prestigious ice skating clubs. Her mother recalls, “They all wanted to take her because she showed a lot of enthusiasm.” It was in Russia that Amira fell in love with the world of ice and performance, and she spent five years training at the Russian Olympic Club for ice skaters, where she stayed with her coach’s family. “When I skate, I enjoy what I do,” Amira says. “It makes me feel great, like everything is possible.”
Meanwhile, Mohamed stayed in the UAE, working as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Al Masah Capital Management in Dubai. “But when Amira was 10, she came back to me because it became too hard for us to be separated,” she explains.
A trilingual speaker in her parents’ languages of Russian and Arabic and in English, Amira feels her multicultural background gives her an edge over other competitors. She says she integrates the spirit of an Egyptian with the experience of a Russian skater, and brings elements of all the cultures into her programs.
While her Russian nationality through her mother has given her access to the skating schools, Amira has a strong attachment to her father’s country. “I am half Russian, half Egyptian, but I am more attached to Egypt. I’ve been to Egypt, I have many books about Egypt, I love and know Egyptian history, especially ancient history. I am very proud to be Egyptian. There were no Egyptian athletes in the Winter Olympics, as such, and I want to make history. I want to give Egypt the glory and fame it deserves.”
In her quest for skating stardom, Amira is currently training under Ukrainian coach Antonina Pashkovska, the former coach of Olympic champions Oksana Baiul and Tatiana Volosozhar. “She’s dedicated most of her time to sports and for the last three years she’s been studying online because she practices her sports 5-6 hours a day, six days a week,” says her mother. “We’re putting all our efforts in making her dreams come true. She has the right attitude and she’s very talented and physically fit.”
Outside of her professional ice skating aspirations, Amira has other hobbies. “I like to paint and play guitar,” the teen says. “I also like dancing and singing.” But her sport doesn’t leave much room for a social life. “When I was in Russia I went to Russian school and made some friends there.” One of her best friends was her coach’s son who used to take classes with her on a daily basis, and then they’d play together when they had the time. “When I lived in Russia, I used to be shy. I didn’t like to go out with my friends much because I didn’t have time. We used to go out a little and play outside in the winter, but that’s all. Sometimes I miss the winter in Russia, but Dubai is good for me now.”
When she returned to Dubai to be with her mother, Amira enrolled in a Russian school and made a few friends there. But now she studies online in an American program, which she can schedule around her training sessions. “I feel very busy,” Amira admits. “I have to complete high school, and I have to practice six hours every day, six days a week.”
To keep her going, Amira says, “I get my motivation from music, motivational quotes, videos and from the people who support me — my family, friends, relatives and coaches.”
“I try to motivate her, but it’s not easy to find the right words or the right actions,” her mother says. “Sometimes her motivation comes unexpectedly.”
As Amira’s ‘agent,’ Mohamed schedules all of Amira’s international competitions. In October she competed in Italy, where she placed 18 out of 31. At the International Skating Union’s (ISU) 25th Volvo Open Cup in Latvia last month, she did not make it past the qualifying round. In total, she is appearing in seven competitions this season, which for Amira runs from September to June.
“She could be a medalist with her technical content and components, she only needs to work on psychological part,” her mother says. “She is very good skater, everybody admitted it, but she really needs a good coach.”
For the 2015-2016 season, Amira hopes to represent Egypt in the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating, a series of eight international competitions. Before she can do so, two things have to happen. First, Egypt must have an Ice Sport Federation (ISF), which currently does not exist. Second, Amira must join the ISU as a member of the Egyptian federation. This will open the way for her to represent Egypt in the 2018 Olympics.
Mohamed started by contacting the Olympic Committee of Egypt, ministers and other government officials about an ISF, and she has also created an “Ice Sport National Development Plan for Egypt,” outlining what is needed to create the ISF. At press time, she was looking for local contacts to help create a non-profit federation and officially register it with the Ministry of Youth and Sports. She has also been approaching owners of local skating rinks and other organizations that would be interested in an ISF.
In addition to getting an Egyptian ISF off the ground, Mohamed has to find funding for Amira’s competitions and training with her renowned coach. She is the sole financial support for Amira, as her husband is in Egypt unable to work for health reasons.
“The cost of her training is $2,000 every month, which is expensive, but worth it because Amira is so talented,” says Mohamed. Her job in Dubai has thus far been enough for Mohamed to sustain their household and cover Amira’s training, but the costs continue to rise. Mohamed says she has been pulling all her connections together to find sponsorships.
It will take more than sponsorships and federation memberships to get Amira to Korea in 2018. Ultimately, she has to score high enough in ISU competitions to qualify for the 2017 World Ice Skating Championship, and then place high enough to earn Egypt one of the 30 spots allocated for singles figure skating.
“I constantly ask her if this is what she really wants to do, if she wants to quit, which I would understand. But I don’t think it’s going to happen because she loves it a lot,” Mohamed explains, “It’s a beautiful sport. It’s a combination of art, music, choreography, dance and sport.”
“I really hope that Amira’s case will set an example for other children in Egypt, especially girls, so that they can be healthy. And for that they need to play sports,” Mohamed continues. “We want to encourage the young generation of Egypt to achieve something great in their lives.”
For a 14-year-old who weighs all of 50 kilograms, Amira seems to be handling the pressure well. Throughout the Skype interview with Egypt Today, she was totally focused on her goals.
“My aspiration is to start jumping triple jumps and to get medals in international competitions, not only in the UAE. My short term goal is to go to Italy, in November 2014, perform to my best, and represent Egypt for the first time in my life. My long term goal is to represent Egypt in Winter Olympic 2018. I feel very confident that I can do it.”