Karate athlete bags gold for Lebanon

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Malek Al-Zibawi (third from left) celebrates his gold medal on the podium. (Photo Supplied)
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Malek Al-Zibawi (right) an opponent during the Kyokushin Karate Championship in Porto, Portugal.
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Updated 12 December 2019

Karate athlete bags gold for Lebanon

  • The 21-year-old won the men’s +90-kg event

DUBAI: Lebanon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The stepping down of Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid a severe economic crisis, protesters blocking the streets over longstanding grievances, women voicing their frustration over sexual harassment. The list goes on.

But amid all the chaos at home, miles away from its capital city Beirut, a university student made his country proud.

Malek Al-Zibawi went on to land a gold medal in the 33rd edition of the Kyokushin Karate Championship in Porto, Portugal.

The 21-year-old won the men’s +90-kg event with Yehya Omar, also from Lebanon, finishing third.

Al-Zibawi participated as part of the Lebanese delegation, which included participants from different universities.
The delegation won two golds, one silver and four bronze medals, and ranked sixth in the championship among more than 20 participating countries.

The road to gold was not easy for Al-Zibawi, though. “It’s very hard to train here since everywhere there are protests and roadblocks,” he told Arab News.

“I normally practice for two to three hours a day, but when there’s only a month for the tournament I start training for seven to eight hours daily.”

Al-Zibawi said kyokushin, a style of stand-up fighting, is unique for several reasons. “Whatever your age, whether 6 or 60, you can practice it. The sport is built on respect and discipline,” he added.

“It’s fought with bare hands and feet (no gloves and no protection). One can only punch the body, no punches to the head.”

Al-Zibawi said training is not only about putting in the hours, but about having the proper diet plan, and both are only possible if the surroundings are conducive.

He thus made the decision to leave his home a month before the Portugal tournament so he could train in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he could keep his focus on the tournament.

The move paid off, and he returned home with the gold and a cash prize of €200 ($221.70) from the federation, which he saved in order to fund his upcoming tournaments.

During the world kyokushin tournament in Japan, Al-Zibawi went up against a Russian fighter who won the bout by a split decision. He did not let the loss discourage him, though.

“I still feel I can win the world title in 2023,” he said. For this to happen, he said those in a position of power need to do more for the sport in his country, suggesting that they increase budgets to fund clubs and athletes who could “raise the Lebanese flag on the world stage.”

Al-Zibawi added: “They should have an independent system of supervision on federations, and apply rules which would encourage big companies and wealthy people to sponsor sports as sportsmen play a big role in the process of good community and country building.”

With karate techniques kata and kumite making their debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Al-Zibawi is hopeful that kyokushin too will become an Olympic sport.

With big hopes and much determination, he is confident that he and his country will achieve more glory in the years to come.

Barcelona beaten by Valencia in early blow for Setien

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in action against Valencia’s Francis Coquelin during their La Liga match in Valencia on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 26 January 2020

Barcelona beaten by Valencia in early blow for Setien

  • Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez misses a penalty, hits the crossbar in the first half

VALENCIA: Quique Setien’s honeymoon period lasted less than a fortnight as he tasted his first Barcelona defeat on Saturday in his second La Liga game in charge after a 2-0 loss to Valencia.

Maxi Gomez’s strike and a Jordi Alba own goal at Mestalla handed Barca their fourth league defeat of the campaign, giving Real Madrid the chance to move three points clear of the champions at the top of the table when they visit Real Valladolid on Sunday.
Barcelona had most of the ball but their opponents had the best chances as Gomez missed a penalty and also hit the crossbar in the first half. Gabriel Paulista saw a third goal ruled out late on.
While performances under previous coach Ernesto Valverde were stodgy, he left a team that sat top of the table.
Setien promised a new style but despite dominating possession, Barcelona went nowhere with it and as Valencia grew in confidence, they ceded control.
“It should not take us long,” Setien had said on Friday, when asked how quickly his players could adapt to his methods.
Valencia climb to fifth and continue to improve under Albert Celades. This success came without their captain Dani Parejo and, largely, without star striker Rodrigo Moreno, who has been linked with a January move to Barcelona.
The hosts hardly touched the ball for the first six minutes, their fans whistling as they urged a more aggressive approach.
But the plan was to sit and absorb and it worked, with Barcelona unable to cut through or create a single clear chance.
And when Valencia did intervene, they were more dangerous too. With their first attack they won a penalty as Jose Gaya slipped past Gerard Pique and would surely have scored from eight yards before being brought down.
Pique was booked and, with Parejo absent, Gomez stepped up, only for his driven shot to be well saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, albeit with the help of half a yard’s headstart off his line.
Barca were riding their luck. Sergi Roberto’s header cannoned off Pique but fell just close enough for Ter Stegen, who parried a Gomez shot onto the crossbar and almost spilled another to Kevin Gameiro.
Referee Gil Manzano put his hands together as if to apologize after failing to play advantage when Ferran Torres was clear but the frustration of Valencia’s fans turned to ecstasy shortly after half time.
Pique’s flicked header landed at the feet of Gomez, whose driven effort took a cruel deflection off Alba and flew in.
Setien traded the patience of Arthur Melo for the physicality of Arturo Vidal and Rodrigo came on to a rousing reception.
Barcelona exerted some pressure and Lionel Messi led the way, hauled to the ground by Francis Coquelin and then denied by a brilliant Gabriel tackle. He fired past the post, headed wide and saw a curling free kick saved.
Yet just as a Barcelona equalizer began to feel inevitable, Valencia struck again. A quick throw caught Alba out of position and Torres did well to cut inside and switch to Gomez. He took a touch and curled into the corner.
Gabriel thought he had a third after volleying in from a corner but VAR persuaded Manzano there had been a push. When Messi ballooned a late free kick into the stands, Valencia knew their win was secure.