Her first Olympic experience lasted just 82 seconds but it was enough time to make history.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, 16, became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in an Olympic Games on Friday when she competed in judo’s +78 kilogramme event.
Sporting a headscarf instead of her traditional hijab that had caused controversy in the build-up to her selection, Shahrkhani was given a huge ovation by the packed crowd in the Excel Arena as they were told the magnitude of her achievement.
“I am very excited and very proud,” Shahrkhani told reporters just moments after she was beaten by Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico.
From the numbers of media chasing a word, it might have been Usain Bolt but instead it was a teenager who has become one of the faces of the Games.
Shahrkhani looked understandably bemused with all the attention but the president of the Saudi Arabia Judo and Taekwondo Federation, Dr Hani Kamal Najem said the whole country was behind her.
“We’re very excited and very proud of her,” he said. “I think it’s a milestone that she’s achieved and we’re delighted that she’s been able to make it.
“Unfortunately we were not able to come out of it with a medal but I think she did extremely well and we’re very proud of her.” “She would like to thank everyone for their support and for travelling to see her.” The 16-year-old is one of two female Saudi Arabian athletes competing in London, alongside Sarah Attar, born and raised in the United States, due to run in the 800 metres.
The conservative Muslim kingdom only agreed to send two women to London after pressure from the International Olympic Committee and human rights organizations.
Until now, women’s sport has been regarded as “offensive” but IOC president Jacques Rogge this week spoke of his pride that for the first time, all 205 nations in the Games were fielding both men’s and women’s teams.
“It is an encouraging evolution,” Rogge told DPA in an emailed statement.
“We wish the women representing their countries at the Olympic Games for the first time the best of luck in their competitions and hope their presence at London 2012 will serve to inspire many other women to follow in their footsteps.” A controversy over her hijab threatened to keep her out of the Games but the Saudi Olympic committee and the international judo federation reached a compromise, with Shahrkhani wearing a Muslim headscarf, as worn by athletes in the Asian Games.
Mojica said she had “no problem” with the headscarf and praised Shahrkhani for her achievement.
“It’s great that she has an opportunity to compete,” she said.
Article source: http://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/article3722518.ece