Ghada Shouaa

(September 10.1972- )

Ghada Shouaa was Syria’s first ever Olympic gold medalist, and the second Syrian to win a medal in the Olympics. She is the third Arab woman to win Olympic gold, after
Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco who won the 400-meter hurdles in 1984, and Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria who won the gold in the 1500 meters in 1992.

Shouaa grew up in the village of Mouhrada in central
Syria. She competed as a young girl in cross-country, later played basketball on the Syrian National Team, and at 14 began serious training. In 1991 she participated in her first heptathlon, setting a Syrian record of 4010 points. She competed in Tokyo’s World Championships and placed 24th with 4425 points. At the Asian Games in Malaysia, Shouaa won the silver medal with 5225 points, and due to injury was unable to compete in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

The following year, Shouaa won gold in the Asian Games heptathlon in the Philippines with 6,260 points. In 1995 she set the Asian record for the heptathlon in Götiz, Austria with 6715 points, and won gold in the World Championships in Gotheburg, Sweden.

In May 1996, she took top honors at Götzis, with 6,942 points, which was just 349 below the world record, set in 1988 by the American athlete Jackie Joyner ¬Kersee.

Before the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 she started training in Cyprus under Russian coach Kim Bukhantsev. As neither speaks the other’s language, Ghada and her coach communicated with signals, flashcards and through an interpreter.

In the heptathlon, women accumulate points in seven events held over two days: 100-meter hurdles; high jump; shot-put; 200-meter sprint; long jump; javelin toss; and 800-meter run.

Her javelin toss in the Olympics was her best ever, and she finished with 6,780 points, 217 beyond the total of silver medalist Natasha Sazanovich of Belarus.

When Ghada returned to Damascus after the Games, thousands packed the airport, and she was paraded through the city to cheers of the crowds. She became a Syrian national hero and an inspi¬ration for young women athletes throughout the Middle East.

References Aramco Magazine, Nov/Dec 1996;