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Arabs play small role at Sochi Olympic Games
By Ray Hanania
The Olympics are divided into two competitions, one held in the Summer and one held in the Winter. They are held every four years, with the Summer Games and Winter Games alternating by taking place every four years, but two years apart.
Athletes will be competing from 88 nations. There will only be four Arab contenders representing the Arab World at the Sochi Olympics originating from two Arab World countries, Lebanon and Morocco. All four athletes will be competing in Alpine Skiing which has 10 scheduled events at Sochi.
Arab participation in the Olympics began in 1912 and this year marks the 102 year anniversary of Arab World participation. A total of 17 Arab countries were represented at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Lebanon is represented by Jacky Chamoun, 22, from Deir el Kamar, and Alexandre Mohbat, 18, from Beirut. Morocco is represented by American and Canadian Arabs Adam Lamhamedi, 18, originally born in Montreal, Canada, and Kenza Tazi, 18, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
Chamoun began skiing at the age of three in Faraya, Lebanon. Her father was an avid skier and they used to travel to the slopes in Faraya every weekend in the winter. She trains in Faraya, Lebanon.
She says her hero is Lebanese alpine skier Chirine Njeim. She feels training in Lebanon doesn’t prepare her for competition in the rest of the world. “When we go outside Lebanon, it’s very hard for us to ski on long, long slopes. They are really steep and icy and we are not used to these conditions.”
Chamoun caused some controversy when she posed for a calendar called ‘Ski Instructors’ shot by fellow Olympian Hubertus von Hohenlohe. The shots were risque and shot on the Faraya ski slopes outside Beirut in Lebanon. The shoot included teammate Chirine Njeim and created some negative publicity in Lebanon, though she was happy with the calendar.
“It was positive for me. I don’t regret it at all,” Chamoun said. “When I started my job, for example, people when they search for me on the web sometimes they can see these pictures directly so you think maybe it’s not the best thing, not the best image you can give someone of you. But, I don’t really care. I really enjoyed it and I don’t regret it. I like these photos. I have no problem with it.”
Chamoun says she hopes she can help increase the popularity of skiing in Lebanon. “When you see our past results, it’s not really encouraging. In the future I would like to have plans for sports in Lebanon and for skiing and to try to put in place facilities to encourage young people and to have the funds to influence authorities to invest themselves in the sport. We can do a lot to improve the level.”
Lamhamedi began skiing with the Skibec alpine ski club in Stoneham, QC, Canada as a young boy. He has won a Gold Medal in the super G event at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria was the first ever gold medal won by an African nation at an Olympic event. “I wanted to prove that Moroccans can ski well, and I proved it.”
Lamhamedi has dual citizenship and was born to a Moroccan father and a Canadian mother, and has dual citizenship in both countries. His father, a university professor, moved to Canada several years before his birth. The family still keeps a home in Morocco. “I was born in Quebec and I grew up there, and I went through the Skibec alpine system. I’m just like any other kid from Charlesbourg. But I am lucky enough to have a Moroccan father.”
Tazi joined her first skiing club at age 12. Her parents took her on skiing holidays when she was younger and each year her passion for the sport grew. When her family moved from London, England to the French Alps in 2007, she was able to begin skiing competitively. She hopes to continue her studies at Cambridge University in England to become a researcher.
Israel and Iran will each be represented by five athletes. The United States will have 230 athletes in the competitions, while Russia will have 225 and Canada will have 220.
(Editor’s Note: Some of the information is taken from the Official Sochi 2014 Olympics website. www.sochi2014.com/en)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. And, he writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers.
He also writes for the online websites including TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions.In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States. He has a daughter from a prior marriage, Haifa.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com