Farida Osman: Egypt’s Teen Swimming Sensation Takes on The Olympics

By Christiana Renfro

This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.

Farida Osman: 17 years old, Egyptian. Event: 50m freestyle (Friday, August 3—Saturday, August 4) Photo courtesy of Ahram Online

Farida Hisham Osman began swimming at the age of five. This year, at 17, she is representing Egypt as part of a small contingency of Arab women competing in this year’s Olympics.

Born in Indiana but raised in Cairo, Osman was the fastest swimmer in the 50m butterfly in her age group at the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome. At the 2011 FINA Junior World Championships in Peru, she became a junior world champion in that same event. Later that year, she won seven gold medals at the Arab Games in Doha.  Despite these victories, Osman did not make the initial qualifying list for the Olympics, and was instead placed on a waiting list. She and her family received a phone call just days before the games, informing her that she would be invited to compete: “I still can’t believe it,” she said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.

While Osman acknowledges her youth and relative inexperience, she has set her sights on Rio as well as London: “My goal will be to reach the semifinals,” she told Al-Ahram. “But at the next Olympics in 2016, I promise to win a medal.”

Egypt has competed in the Olympic Games since 1912. Egyptian athletes—all of them men—have won a total of 24 medals since that time. Egypt has boycotted the Games on three occasions for political reasons. In 1956, it joined several other Arab countries in boycotting the Melbourne Olympics in protest of the Israeli, British, and French invasion of Egypt during the Suez War. In 1976, it boycotted the Montreal Olympics alongside other African nations in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. And four years later, it participated in the American-led boycott of the Moscow Games, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

We’ve documented the troubling daily realities for women in Egypt, noting the widespread harassment and assaults during and since the revolution. Women continue to be highly underrepresented at the political level, occupying only eight out of 508 seats of the (now disbanded) Parliament—though, on a more hopeful note, Mohamed Morsi, the new president, has pledged to make women’s rights a priority in his administration, and to appoint a female vice president. Given the difficulties and opportunities Egypt currently faces, Osman has a unique opportunity ahead of her: to represent her country at the Olympics, and to inspire other Egyptian women to take leadership roles in sports and other aspects of public and private life.


Published on August 2, 2012


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