Lebanon has participated in every Winter Olympics since 1948, except for two years, 1994 and 1998. However, this year Lebanon is adding a new sport to its record as skier Samer Tawk is the first Lebanese cross-country skier to ever get qualified for the Winter Olympic Games. Tawk’s achievement is not just about his talent and passion, it is also about reaching so far during a very short time, at a very young age and with very limited support. Yet, he proudly made it!
Samer is 19 years old. He was born and raised in Bcharri, the village of Gibran Khalil Gibran overlooking the Valley of Saints or Qannoubine Valley. The village is a renowned destination for its ski slopes and the sport itself is very popular among Bcharri youth population. For Samer, the sport has been a little bit more than just a recreational activity for fun and spending good times with friends. This bit more turned the sport into his passion and got him a long way across the globe to PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Yet, that is not the highlight of this well-earned adventure. Tawk’s true achievement is that he made his dream come true in just two and a half years, during which he was practicing passionately despite the lack of support and necessary resources. More so, Samer started as an alpine skier at the age of seven to change just three years earlier to a different field and eventually embark on his journey of corss-country skiing across many countries!
While skiing is a physically demanding and challenging sport, cross-country skiing requires way more effort and resilience in terms of technique, as skiers push forward by either striding or pushing side-to-side in a skating motion, aided by arms pushing on ski poles against the snow. The former technique is the classic style while the latter is known as skate skiing. Samer proved his skills and passion at the qualification event in Turkey in December 2017 to take part in the 15km freestyle event in PyeongChang later in February. After competing in five races, 15km each, putting all his technique and strength, Samer gets qualified and moves a giant step towards a lifelong dream. Tawk says: “Getting to the Olympics was a far-fetched dream as I was still a beginner back then. But after two years of extremely hard training for long hours, I started to believe in myself and realized that I am already on the road to success. I did it despite the difficulties.”
Despite the considerable support within available means by the Lebanese Ski Federation, there was little to no support on the government side. Tawk’s focus is now on the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and he calls on the government to adopt a more serious and supportive approach towards ski sports in Lebanon. Skiing is a growing and popular culture drawing talented and zealous athletes every year. Professional training requires professional coaches that come most of the time from abroad making it even more financially challenging for Lebanese people to invest in their aspiring athletes without government support. Tawk was coached by former Serbian Biathlete Aleksandar Milencovic, who was also a cyclist and cross-country skier who competed in Summer and Winter Olympics. He is looking forward to train harder for the next Olympics and is very keen on pursuing his dream despite all the challenges.
Tawk is indeed proud of his achievement, so are his family, village and country. Yet, that is not the end for him, it is just the start of his long journey nourished by passion and dedication. He aims to become a professional skier and pursue his academic studies in physical education. Being a promising inspiration to his people and friends, Tawk was himself inspired by the founder of the scout movement Lord Robert Stephenson Baden-Powell. His ten years with Bcharri scouts significantly contributed to his resilience and self-control. He learnt to put all his efforts into his goals and always find a way. His message to his generation is to believe in themselves and never stop dreaming because dreams do come true when you believe in them enough!