Moroccan dual Olympian hoping to make Arab World proud in Pyeongchang

Double Olympian Samir Azzimani hopes he will win new fans for his sport across the Arab world when he competes in Friday's cross-country skiing event. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2018

Moroccan dual Olympian hoping to make Arab World proud in Pyeongchang

LONDON: Samir Azzimani will make history on Friday when he becomes the Arab world’s first dual-sport Olympian.
The Moroccan competed in alpine skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and returns to sport’s grandest stage when he races in men’s cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang on Friday afternoon.
Azzimani was born 40 years ago on the outskirts of Paris to Moroccan parents.
His father was a mechanic and his mother a cleaner. When he was 5, with his mother struggling to care for the family, he was taken to a home for underprivileged children.
It was there, while on a winter holiday camp, he first experienced skiing. It was not love at first sight.
“To be honest, it wasn’t really exciting to go there because I was ill-equipped, without proper gloves and other suitable skiwear,” he told Arab News this week from Pyeongchang.
“Also, skis are heavy and, for a child, walking with ski boots was awful.”
His enthusiasm grew, though, and despite the expensive nature of the sport a social program allowed him to continue visiting the slopes.
Soon he was addicted, trying to improve, until one day, while sitting on a chairlift, he saw a ski race below.
“My heart started to beat faster. I started to dream that one day I would be a ski champion.”
When the social program ended, Azzimani’s dalliance with the slopes did, too — at least temporarily.
Ten years passed before he would return to the snow, prompted by watching the Morocco flag enter the Théâtre des Cérémonies at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.
In 2010, his dream became reality when, as his country’s sole representative in Vancouver, he acted as flagbearer for Morocco en route to finishing 44th in the regular slalom.
A series of injuries soon followed, however, and Azzimani was forced to undergo surgery, ruling him out of the 2014 Games in Sochi. Taking time off from his job as a ski instructor in France and trying to regain his fitness, he completed endurance training in Morocco. He adapted to his surroundings by descending sand dunes with skis and poles and using wheeled-skis on the burning asphalt roads that scythe through the Sahara Desert.
Such improvization would prove another critical point of his sporting career. He revelled in the interest of bewildered bystanders and the occasional bedouin.
“I’ve been training in Morocco since 2013 and it’s become a kind of tradition for me,” said Azzimani, who was his country’s flagbearer again at last Friday’s Opening Ceremony.




Samir Azzimani was once again his country's flagbearer at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, having had the honor during the 2010 Games in Vancounver. (AFP)

“The people are really curious regarding what I have on my feet. They’ve never seen a roller-skier in their life, so they usually stop on the side of the road to take video or photos. Then they ask what the sport is all about and why I do it.
“It gives me a lot of satisfaction to enjoy this different environment and different culture. It’s very different to the Nordic one — and it also gives me a lot of vitamin D from the sun too.”
Azzimani’s change of discipline has been far from easy.
While plenty of Olympians have competed in more than one sport, few have done so in two events so unalike.
Not only did he have to shed several kilograms, he had to totally rewire his muscles, switching from explosive strength to cardiovascular, and alter his mindset.
“Most dual-athletes choose sports that utilize similar skillsets, making the cross-over that bit easier. What I am doing is totally in opposition to my original sport, so my body had to be transformed. I also had to start being patient, focus more on saving my energy, while also lowering my level of arrogance,” he said, adding jokingly, “It was really tough, but I managed it.”
Now, with the training complete and the sand swapped for snow, the hour has arrived for Azzimani to return to center stage. His expectations ahead of today’s event, which starts on Friday morning KSA time, are realistic.
Once known as the “Couscous Rocket”, he accepts his new discipline is “not really spectacular to watch”, yet hopes he can win a few new fans if nothing else.
“To be honest it feels as if I have never done the Olympics before,” he said. “I have the same excitement and same feeling of adventure, but this time with a little more experience.
“I hope the Arab community will get behind me and enjoy learning a little about a sport they likely don’t know much about,” he added. “Arab countries taking part in the Winter Games are not common so, for this reason, I feel incredibly proud to represent not only Morocco but the entire Arab World. For me, representing is not enough: I have to give the best I have. My goal here in Pyeongchang is to be within 12 minutes of the Olympic champion. And, of course, not to be last over the line.”


The Open canceled for first time since World War II due to virus

Updated 52 min 38 sec ago

The Open canceled for first time since World War II due to virus

  • The 149th Open was scheduled to take place at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Kent in July
  • Both this year’s Masters and the PGA Championship were postponed in March because of the health crisis

LONDON: The Open has been canceled for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus.
The 149th Open was scheduled to take place at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Kent in July.
But with the pandemic ripping the 2020 sporting schedule to shreds, the event has became the first of the sport’s four majors to be canceled this year.
Golf’s oldest major will now be hosted at the same Sandwich venue in July 2021.
“The Open was due to be played in Kent from 12-19 July but it has been necessary to cancel the championship based on guidance from the UK Government, the health authorities, public services and the R&A’s advisers,” organizers R&A said in a statement on Monday.
St. Andrews will still host the 150th Open, but a year later than scheduled in 2022.
“Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in the Open. We care deeply about this historic championship and have made this decision with a heavy heart,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said.
“We have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible.
“We rely on the support of the emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organizations to stage the Championship and it would be unreasonable to place any additional demands on them when they have far more urgent priorities to deal with.
“We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but we have to act responsibly during this pandemic and it is the right thing to do.”
The Open is the latest high-profile tournament to be axed because of the virus.
Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II last week, while Euro 2020 and the Olympics have been pushed back a year until 2021.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry won last year’s Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that I won’t get to defend the Open Championship this year but I feel the R&A have made the right decisions based on people’s health and safety. See you all in Royal St. George’s in 2021,” Lowry tweeted.
Royal St. George’s has hosted the Open 14 times, most recently in 2011, when Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke won the event.
Both this year’s Masters and the PGA Championship were postponed in March because of the health crisis.
It is believed organizers still hope to play those events later in the year.
The US Open is currently set to be played from June 18-21 at Winged Foot in New York.
However, the United States Golf Association (USGA) is expected to announce a decision on staging the tournament soon.