Ghada Shouaa - The One and Only, Pt. 2

Some countries have won just one single gold medal in their Olympic history. We portray them in our series "The One and Only". One of them: Syria. 

The peaceful village of Simmern in the rural area of the German Rhineland is far away from war torn Aleppo or Damascus. It's the place where Syrias's only Olympic champion ever lives today. But Ghada Shouaa did not come as a refugee - as so many others of her compatriots did in the last two years.

When Shouaa won the heptathlon at the 1996 Atlanta Games, it came hardly as a surprise. The 23 year old former basketball international had won the World Championships in Gothenberg a year before and the famous meeting in Götzis, Austria prior to Atlanta. When U. S. heptathlon icon and gold medal favourite Jackie Joyner-Kersee had to quit after the opening 100 meters hurdles due to a hamstring injury, and Germany's former world champion Sabine Braun proved to be out of shape, the way for Shouaa was virtually free. She triumphed by a comfortable margin of over 200 points (picure: Alchetron).

Unfortunately, injuries were going to haunt her during the rest of her short career. In the autumn of the same year, she injured her back heavily while practicing the javelin. Shouaa had surgery in Koblenz, Germany and she joined the club USC Mainz to get back into shape. She won a bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, but never regained the shape of the glory days of Atlanta.

While living in Mainz, Shouaa's coach was Thomas Kohlbacher. His girlfriend Birgit Dressel, also an Olympic heptathlete back in 1984, had died on April 10th,  1987, from wrong medication or - as some insiders argue until today - from a horrific mixture of different doping substances found in her body. Kohlbacher has stayed silent about the details until today. While she later stayed in Germany, Shouaa's career had been jump-started in the early 1990s by a Russian coach: Kim Bukhantsov, who had coached discus thrower Faina Melnik to Olympic gold at the 1972 Munich Games.

It is not known which side Shouaa took during the civil war in her home country. Some Arab media say she openly sumpathized with Assad's regime, but the sources for this claim are dubious. Other writers dwelled on how badly she had been treated by Syrian sports authorities. What we know is that Assad's father and then Syrian head of state Hafiz called her via phone to congratulate Ghada Shouaa on her Atlanta gold. She is not only Syria's only Olympic champion until today, but also one of the very few Arab women to succeed in top level sports. (picture: Getty Images).

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