September 2016 / December 2016 – Since I was 12, I used to do a lot of research about the Olympic Games, athletics and Olympians such as Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner Kersse, Heike Drechsler, Mickael Johson, Flo Jo and the stars of the 1980’s. The passion for sports was born in me 10 years ago.
At the age of 16, I had my own website about Lebanese athletics called “The Track and Field Society”. A project that was an open door for unique opportunities such as taking part in the IOC Young Reporters program. An experience that changed my life upside down. I will share it with you later on.
Taking part in this amazing program and covering the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing 2014, was the reason why I went to Rio as a sports journalist. The IOC gave us the opportunity to cover the 2016 Summer Olympic Games by giving us press accreditations
At the end of July 2016, right after ending my athletics season with a National record in the 100m hurdles, I headed to Rio de Janeiro with my teammate, Sandy Karam (Race Walking) and my friend Sabine Fakhoury (Former Basketball player).
When we were boarding the plane to take off to Dubai, I noticed that the Syrian Olympic team was on the same plane. I was so happy to see Majed, the High Jump star, and I was hoping to see him on the podium in Rio.
When we were settled and ready to take off, I felt a little bit sad, thinking that I am going to watch the Games instead of taking part in it as an athlete.
Arriving in Rio, I took my accreditation and headed to the apartment with Sandy and Sabine. I wasn’t able to afford a media hotel, therefore I shared a small apartment with my friends. On the day of our arrival, we walked to the Olympic Rings on the Copacabana beach and took a photo with our amazing guest Eric.
Sandy and Sabine were volunteering and had to go pick up their uniforms the next day. I decided to visit Gabriella Doueihi (swimming), the youngest participant from the Lebanese delegation, during her training session.
I was standing in the press corner at the warm up venue, watching the young talent train alongside the Olympic Champion Chad Le Clos and the whole South African team. I realized that this young girl is literally living a dream. To be able to make it to the Olympics at only 17, is a huge achievement. I was not only standing in that corner covering her training, but I was also admiring the great champion she is!
On August 4, I rushed to Mariana Sahakyan’s training. I had to attend as much training sessions as I could before the beginning of the competitions. The Lebanese athletes were only 9, but it happened that the majority competed on the same day, at the same time.
I arrived at this huge training venue with my camera and unipod. When I saw Mariana, my heart was full of joy! It was very exciting seeing our athletes train among the best in the world. She started training, and I began taking photos of her. She was very friendly, we laughed from time to time, she is a very cool person. She inked the Rio 2016 tattoo on her arm the day I saw her at the airport in Beirut.
I didn’t want to leave before the end of her training. The venue was in Riocentro, and there was only one bus every 1 hour. The bus was leaving at 12:05 PM. But instead I enjoyed her training and took a selfie with her before running with my camera and unipod to catch the bus that I saw desperately leaving. I walked for 30min to the Main Press Center but I was happy to attend the training.
Arriving at the MPC, I took the bus to Deodoro to attend Ray Bassil’s training. I knew Ray from the media, I never saw her personally. I didn’t know what to expect from the champion who was ranked number one in the world.
She was the talk of the town during the Olympics, everyone was expecting her to win a medal. Arriving at the shooting venue, I saw her sitting in the rest area. I was waiting, watching the men’s trap shooters train. Suddenly, a Lebanese offcial showed up and told me to follow him “Ray will start her practice in the third venue” which is right next to the one I was waiting at.
Ray was focused, “in her zone”. I approached her Italian coach for a discussion. I asked him what he expects from her, he answered: “We were training for this, to bring a medal home, but if you want to interview her, please don’t ask her this question.” I told him that I was an athlete as well and I know that it is too much pressure, especially that CNN interviewed her before the Games and everyone was talking about it.
I was shooting photos while she was shooting clay pigeons. I enjoyed every moment of her training. I was at the same time learning about the sport. Watching how they move, what they do, how they wait for their turn. If I want to describe Shooting in one word, it would be “FOCUS”.
I knew that this would never be my sport. I was too hyper to focus for that long. It really takes a lot of energy to be able to stay calm during the rounds. I interviewed Ray after her training, and without asking her about her expectations, she said that she wants to win a medal for Lebanon. A country that waited 36 years for an Olympic medal. When she was saying it, I was thinking about what her coach told me earlier.
My reaction after this day was: “This woman is well prepared! She is going to win.” I was also thinking about her attitude while training: “She must have had the same attitude everyday during the past four years to be able to make it to this Olympics”.
I was literally enjoying every bit of the Lebanese athletes’ training. I was a little kid living a dream.
After the training sessions, I tried as much as possible to attend the competition of our Lebanese team. The ones I was able to attend were just thrilling and exciting. It was like watching Real Madrid vs Barcelona, or the NBA final. But in my case it was my team and my country! I made it to Judo, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Athletics, Marathon and Fencing. I was a witness of their achievement, of their presence at the Olympic Games. I saw them giving the best out of them, striving for victory and never giving up. It was so inspiring.
I was very close to the athletes, maybe because I am an athlete as well, and I know what it takes and how hard it is to be able to make it on the Olympic team. I was so upset by some people saying that some athletes didn’t deserve to be there. It is a shame that we still have this kind of thinking when our athletes were able to reach the Olympics with no support at all! Those people could at least have supported them instead of just judging the performance. It is not an issue with the athletes, it is an issue with our system!
To those people who never attended the Olympic Games, or never even strived to compete internationally, or who are not athletes at all or never done an sport, you should know that in our country, just being able to qualify to the Olympics is a dream! Instead of making fun of someone who finished last, please RESPECT him/her for being able to make it to the biggest sport event in the world.
The Olympics bring everyone together. I was so happy to meet my fellow IOC Young Reporters and Mentors! It was such a joy! You can see that every one of them is gifted and is driven by one passion that we all have in common.
I was able to meet some of them during our bus rides, others at sports venues and the majority attended a visit to the OBS (Olympic Broadcast Service) where all the footage of the Olympics are gathered, treated and distributed to the world
I was also extremely happy to see my friends from Women and Sports Workshop (Qatar 2015), Azade, Nancy, Aisha… and from the IOA Session.
On the side of the competition, I met a lot of new people from the media to Brazilian citizens or tourists who made our nights in Rio unforgettable. They are people who will stay in my heart forever. Adriano, our lovely musician and journalist, Felix, the crazy funny enthusiastic friend and the German broadcast team, Pablo the Brazilian volunteer and script writer, Rosangela, our Uber driver, Thiago, Jean Baptiste and Jean, the Brazilian gentleman and his french friends with whom we spent really good times, Amine, the Tunisian volunteer, people I met from the press…
To be honest, it is when the athletics started that I felt that I am living the Olympic Games! After covering all the Lebanese athletes, I was heading every day and night to watch athletics. It was so exciting to watch world record performances such as the 400m that kept me speechless for 10minutes. I also met Renaud Lavillenie and Sergue Bubka by accident on my way to the mixed zone where I saw and interviewed some of the athletes.
One day, I was wearing a Jamaican shirt and cap, it was probably the 200m semi-final. I went to the mixed zone to interview Usain Bolt. But when he passed by me, he looked at me (obviously because of my Jamaican outfit) I looked at him in chock, admiring his height and physique. He was so huge! I was speechless. I forgot that I am a journalist and didn’t rush to interview him. Instead, the athlete within was just watching and admiring a living legend who is standing less than a meter away.
It is extremely hard for an active athlete to, not only watch but, to cover the Olympics. You can’t imagine how difficult it is for us to not being allowed in the Olympic village, or to take a photo with an Olympian just because we have a press accreditation that only allows us to go in specific areas.
Being an athlete and a sports reporter has been a major challenge for me, especially in my country where everyone know that Krystel, the athlete, is covering athletics. Most of the people tend to say I’m biased without even reading my articles, just because they know that I belong to a certain club.
But what people will never understand is the reason why I started covering my sport. When I was 16, I felt like I needed to do something for my sport. The media wasn’t covering my sport and athletes were kept in the dark. That’s why, with my weak english and zero knowledge in journalism, I started reporting, interviewing athletes and shooting athletics events when I’m not competing.
I still have the same objectives today, plus giving every athlete the exposure they deserve. Looking back at what I achieved in athletics, I can’t feel any prouder, but there are still A LOT to do in my country. People can’t easily separate “the Athlete” from “the Reporter”, and I don’t expect them to, but I know that I’ve been focusing on individuals and performances rather then clubs and politics. At the end of the day, you realize that you are one of the smallest countries in the world that some people don’t even know about it, and others who have heard about Lebanon, don’t know that it is in Asia and that we speak Arabic.
This little bit of sadness covering the Olympics and not taking part in it as an athlete, gave me a lot of motivation to one day be part of the Games. I may make it one day, and I may not, but I won’t be sleeping at night if I don’t put all my effort in trying to reach my dream.
This Olympic experience couldn’t end better without meeting Nawal El Moutawakel in person. The first Arab woman to win an Olympic Gold medal back in 1984 in 400m Hurdles. Rio 2016 directly influenced my comic book project that is about three Arab Women who marked the history of the Olympic Games. I decided to illustrate the stories of three amazing women I met in Rio: Nawal El Moutawakel, Ray Bassil and Sarah Attar.
After the closing ceremony we spent 5 days in Buzios and Arial de Cabo with Sabine and Sandy, meeting new people, and living some of the best moments in Brazil after the Olympics, to end this journey in the best way possible.
Rio, You’ve been GREAT!