Despite not winning the gold medal, Samar Hamza wrote a new page in Egyptian history by winning silver at the Wrestling World Championships in Serbia last week and becoming the first Egyptian to reach the final.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, 27-year-old Hamza said that despite the odds, she was expecting the silver medal in the 76kg+ weight category. “Although everyone who speaks to me is surprised by the medal and the performance, I wasn’t. I expected it. I even counted on the gold medal because I had prepared very well for this championship. I challenged everyone who criticized me and even challenged myself. I did it last year when I won the bronze medal at the 2021 Ivan Yariguin and City of Sassari World Championships. It was the first time in Egyptian history that a woman won a medal at a World Cup. So this year comes here to make sure I’m able to challenge myself and win silver this time. I assure you that next time it will be the gold.”
Hamza said she refused to travel abroad to attend training camps and instead used the money to attend as many championships as possible as it helped her improve her rank to third in the world , added her.
On her World Cup debut, Hamza defeated Canada’s Renay Distasio 3-0 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, she defeated Austria’s Martina Luenz 3-1, only to face the difficult and experienced Estonian Epp Mae in the semifinals. But she also won that 3-1 before meeting Turkey’s Yasemin Adar in the final. “It wasn’t an easy match as Adar is a two-time world champion and came third at the Tokyo Olympics. I did my best but I wasn’t lucky enough to win.”
After winning the silver medal, the World Wrestling Union praised Hamza for her performance and called her a legend.
Hamza started her life as a karate player but gave it up as she was not interested in the kata discipline. She got into wrestling by luck, she says. “I used to go to the club with my neighbor and best friend who used to be a wrestler. One day Captain Tolba, my current coach, visited the club to look for wrestlers, male and female. He saw me standing by my friend’s side. He asked me to show him my muscles, my legs, my fist and asked me to do some movements. That was in 2013 when he picked me to start wrestling training. I was 18 at the time. At first I was scared because I was older than the others. My boyfriend started at the age of seven but I got interested in the sport and the journey began.”
Hamza is from Alexandria and trains at the military school. She has no sponsor and refused to continue with one she had. “I don’t have a sponsor now because I hate being affiliated with a certain company or place or following certain rules. That’s why I like to do all my training camps in Egypt and only travel for competitions. I feel free in Alexandria.”
After the Tokyo Olympics, Hamza fell into despair and decided to give up everything and everyone. “I was very well prepared and won silver and bronze medals in all the competitions I competed in before the Olympics. When I placed 12th in Tokyo, I was depressed and frustrated. I decided to quit, but my parents and coach kept pushing me to compete in the World Championships, which was just a month before the Olympics. The Egyptian Wrestling Federation refused to send me to the World Championships after I failed at the Olympics, so I paid for my travel and challenged myself to travel and compete and win the bronze medal, to everyone’s surprise. I was very excited and happy with what I did.”
As for her next move, Hamza will rest a bit and prepare for Paris 2024. “I plan to win an Olympic medal this time and to write a new chapter in my history and also in that of my country.”
Hamza worships Alexandria in that she trains on the Mediterranean, scaling the Corniche walls and blocking the waves as a workout. “I love Alex. And I refuse to leave it for a closed or training camp. I’m like a fish that can’t get out of the water. Alex and my coach Tolba are everything. He is my father, mother, coach, friend, doctor, psychiatrist and everything. I owe him all my success. The national team’s doctor, Dr. Magdi Al-Sabagh, monitors all my medications for doping tests, which I undergo regularly.”
Hamza won the Africa and Oceania qualifier, which sent her to her second Olympics. She competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics where she placed 16th. She competed in the African Championships four times and won four gold medals.
*A version of this article will appear in print in the September 22, 2022 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly.