The 1932 Egyptian Athletics Delegation

After last week’s blog post on a theoretical Egyptian football squad at the 1932 Los Angeles, we got to thinking – what if Egypt had sent a full delegation to those Games? Unlike with football, other sports held national championships that year that would give a strong indication as to who might have represented the country in various events. Thus, we have decided to spend a little bit of time writing about each sport and who might have been an Olympian had Egypt not boycotted the Games.

(Part one of the results of the 1932 Egyptian national athletics championships, from the April 11, 1932 edition of Al-Ahram)

Today we are looking into track and field athletics, arguably the highlight of any edition of the Summer Olympics. Egypt, however, has never been a powerhouse in this sport; its best result in the history of the Games came when Hassan Badra placed 11th in the triple jump at the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. This, however, provides us with an opportunity to delve into the ostensible focus of this blog, Olympic mysteries, since those Egyptians who did compete in track and field in the earliest editions of the Games tend to be relatively obscure.

(Part two of the results of the 1932 Egyptian national athletics championships)

The task is complicated slightly by the fact that Greek clubs tended to dominate this sport prior to World War II. From 1920 on, however, Egypt’s delegations to the Olympics were composed almost exclusively of indigenous Egyptians. As we mentioned in the previous post, Egypt boycotted the 1932 Los Angeles Games precisely because they were represented by a Greek, rather than an Egyptian, on the IOC, and thus it seems highly unlikely that they would have sent any individuals of Greek ancestry to the Games if they had participated.

This leaves us with only five Egyptians who earned individual medals at the national championships in 1932, thus limiting the pool of who might have been on the team. This is not surprising: Egypt had two athletics competitors in 1920, one in 1924, and none in 1928. What is a little more unexpected is that the 1924 competitor, Mohamed El-Sayed of Alexandria, was still in good form in 1932. El-Sayed had represented Egypt in the 1500 and 5000 metres events at the 1924 Paris Games, but was eliminated in the heats of each. Born in 1905, he was in his late-20s in 1932 and still performing well domestically: he won the 1500, 5000 and 10,000 metres and was runner-up in the 800 metres.

Thus we suspect that El-Sayed would have represented Egypt in at least the former three events in Los Angeles. His 1932 winning time of 15:45 in the 5000 would not have allowed him to exit the qualification round, while even his best time of 15:23.4, set in 1928, would have left him well outside the medal range. As for the 10,000 metres, he won the nationals with 35:57, far off of podium time. His best event was the 1500, and he has a personal best set that year of 4:12.4. Even this, however, although perhaps qualifying him for the final in Los Angeles, would not have been sufficient for a podium finish. Unfortunately, given how common his name was, and the limited attention given to athletics in Egypt during this era, we have no further biographical details about him and know nothing about his later life.

At the 1932 national championships, the runner-up in the 1500 and the winner of the 800 metres was Abu Al-Yazid El-Halawani, born in 1907, who represented Haras Galalat Al-Malik (King’s Guard). His winning time at the nationals, 2:04.4, would have been the slowest time in the event in Los Angeles. El-Halawani, however, would hit the peak of his career a few years later, when on May 16, 1936, he set an Egyptian record of 1:52 in the 800 and was selected to represent his country in that event, as well as the 400 metres hurdles, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His 800 time would have put him in contention for gold at the Games (which makes us suspicious that this result was a misprint or error), but he was, per the August 4, 1936 edition of the Egyptian Gazette, “unfit” in Berlin and did not start either competition. Nonetheless, he continued to compete and was the Egyptian runner-up in the 400 metres and the 400 metres hurdles in 1939. Unfortunately, we were unable to discover what happened to him after World War II.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Abu Sobea of Cairo, born in 1907, was the runner-up in the 5000 and 10,000 metres events at the 1932 national championships. Like El-Halawani, he was a member of Haras Galalat Al-Malik and reached his peak a few later when he was selected to represent Egypt in the 1500 and 5000 meters in Berlin. While he did not start the 1500, he did compete in the 5000, but was eliminated in the heats. He set a personal best of 15:41.6 in 1938 and was runner-up in that event again in 1939, which led to his selection to represent Egypt at the 1940 Summer Olympics. That tournament’s subsequent cancellation meant that Abu Sobea likely missed out on two editions of the Games that he would otherwise have been eligible for. Unfortunately, details of his later life are also unknown.

The final competitors are more mysterious. An individual by the name of Sadiq Muhammad, of Haras Al-Hadud (Border Guards), was runner-up in the discus, with 35.19 metres, and javelin throw, with 49.385 metres, and third in the 400 metres. Neither of his field marks would have placed him in contention for the final. As his name is very common and he never participated in the Olympics, we know nothing else about him. Finally, ‘Id ‘Abd Al-Saadiq, of the Cairo Club, came in third in the 10,000 metres. He also competed into the late 1930s, but does not appear to have been a contender for the Berlin Games.

We suspect, therefore, that the first three on this list certainly would have taken part in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics if given the chance. Perhaps if they had, we would know more about them today, although it is equally possible that they would have remained just as forgotten due to the lack of attention paid to Egyptian track and field athletics at the time. Regardless, we hope that you found this post at least a little interesting and hope that you will join us when we look at other possibly make-ups for the 1932 Egyptian sports!