Gulf female athletes make their debut at London Olympics


“In white,” the announcer at the ExCel Center in London declared, “the first woman ever from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkani.”

Shaherkani was on the mat for one minute and 22 seconds, before her opponent from Puerto Rico knocked her to the ground. But in that short bout she made history as the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia to compete at the Olympics.

“I’m excited and proud to be representing my country,” Shaherkani said after the match. “Unfortunately I lost, but I’ll do better next time.”

Qatar was another country sending women to the Olympics for the first time, with two of their female athletes competing Friday morning.

Sprinter Noor al-Maliki competed in the 100m heat but she could not finish after suffering an injury. She ran for about 10 meters before stopping and was seen sitting on the track holding her thigh in pain. The 17-year-old covered her face with her hands as she was later taken out of the track on a wheelchair.

Omani runner Shinoona al-Habsi took part at the same event and finished fourth at her heat with 12.45 seconds.

Three Gulf countries had female participants at the 50m freestyle swimming event that took place at the Aquatics Center in London Friday morning.

From Qatar, swimmer Nada Akraji finished fourth in heat with 30.89 seconds, while Kuwaiti swimmer Faye Sultan finished seventh in her heat at 27.92 second. US-born Bahraini swimmer Sara Alflaij finished fifth in her heat with 33.81. That meant that none of the three swimmers made it to the next round.

UAE weightlifter Khadija Mohammed participated at the 75kg event. Mohammed, 17, lifted a total of 113kg and finished last in her group. But like the Saudi judoka Shaherkani, Mohammed's participation at this event is considered groundbreaking for women in the Gulf.

One more athlete is expected to appear later Friday when Shitaye Eshete from Bahrain takes part at the women's 10,000m race.