13 Feb 2017

Born in December 1995, she was just four years old when her father represented Egypt at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games; at the time Ashraf Helmy was nearing the end of what had been a highly successful career.

In 1992 he had clinched the Men’s Singles title at both the Arab Championships in Cairo and at the African Championships in Nigeria; later in 1993 won the Arab Cup before in 1994 in the United Arab Emirates, he was again the gold medallist at the Arab Championships.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

Now daughter, Yousra Helmy maintains the family sporting traditions; at first gymnastics was the choice, soon after with parental encouragement, attention turned to table tennis.

She treads in the footsteps of her father, as to some extent does her younger brother Mahmoud. He represented Egypt at the Sun International 2016 World Junior Championships but it may be a different sporting path that eventually he follows.

He is on the books of a Cairo based professional football club.

Team Event Round 3 at the Sun International 2016 World Junior Table Tennis Championships. 30 Nov - 7 Dec 2016, Cape Town (RSA)
Mahmoud Helmy in action at the Sun International 2016 World Junior Championships in Cape Town (Photo: Rémy Gros)

Following in father’s footsteps and very much following in those footsteps; 16 years after her father competed in Sydney, 20 years old at the time, Yousra Helmy was on duty for Egypt at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

An experience of a lifetime and like her compatriots, Dina Meshref, her cousin and Nadeen El-Dawlatly who were alongside her in Rio de Janeiro, she has to balance high level sport with education. She is an undergraduate, studying accounting at American University in Cairo.

Notably, later in the year, she was on duty at a further major international tournament; partnering Dina Meshref, she won the Women’s Doubles title at the ITTF-Africa Championships in Agadir, Morocco.

She spoke to Olalekan Okusan, the Press Officer for the African Table Tennis Federation

Table tennis for me is the recreational side of my life. Through it I practise sport, meet people, see places and suffer the disappointment of loss and enjoy the excitement of winning. It was my father that made me to play table tennis.

Early on, he used to take me to the club where he was head coach and let me practise with the young kids. I enjoyed the atmosphere and decided to continue in table tennis.  Over the years and as now, he has become my coach and my supporter.

Originally I started off as a gymnast. However, as well as my father, my grandfather used to take me to play table tennis; with time, I started enjoying table tennis more than gymnastics, so I shifted to table tennis full time.

I must admit that it has not been easy combining schooling with table tennis. There are many times where there is a contradicting schedule but I have learned to manage my time well to be able to do well in both fields. Of course this comes at the expense of fun, recreation and an active social life, which comes down to a minimum in my case.

Rio Olympics meant the world to me in more than one aspect. First, for any athlete to be an Olympian is their ultimate dream. Second, you get to meet all the sports greats and you get to watch the top players of every sport competing. The spirit at the Olympic Games was awesome. The uniqueness of the Olympic Games comes from the grandeur of the event itself. It’s a sports festival for all sports from all continents around the world, joined together to celebrate sports. The stories of the winners, the losers, sportsmanship; all account for a unique experience like no other.

The title in Morocco was my first gold medal in a doubles event. It was a very happy moment for me because I enjoy playing doubles very much and, of course, partnering Dina Meshref made it a lot more special. She was then the African champion which simply means I partnered the best; of course being my cousin at the same time added a sentimental dimension to the victory.

I hope I can play for many years to come. I am sure and hope I stay with the national team for as long as I can. I practise regularly all year long to try to maintain the proper level that qualifies me to be in the national team.

My dreams are to win a few titles in Egypt and Africa particularly a gold medal in the singles. Also I would very much hope to participate in Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Table tennis in Africa is moderate and it is not a secret that the Asian version is the best, followed by the Europeans. In my opinion, Africa and South America comes next, which puts them at the middle level in the world.

In Africa, I don’t see that much difference between male and female African players. With the possible exception of Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna, male and female African players’ results are the same internationally; to be fair, Quadri and Omar are true professionals and this allows them to fully dedicate their time to table tennis.

Currently there are no professional female table tennis players at least in Egypt. So this comparison is not really fair.

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