Attar becomes first Saudi female track Olympian


Sarah Attar finished last at the women’s 800 meter race but she received a standing ovation from the audience at the Olympics Stadium in London. The crowd that filled the stadium to capacity kept cheering for her until the end.

Before the race began, a beaming Attar waved to the crowd as the announcer said her name. Wearing a white headscarf, a long sleeved green top and black leggings, Attar finished the distance in 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Attar became the first female track and field athlete to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympic Games.

Few days ago, her countrywoman Wojdan Shaherkhani made history as the first Saudi female athlete ever to compete at the Olympics when she competed at the +78kg event. But unlike Shaherkhani, who comes from Mecca, Attar never lived in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s an incredible experience,” Attar, who has dual United States citizenship and is a student at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, told reporters after the race.

The 19-year-old was born and raised in Escondido, California to a Saudi father and an American mother. The college student’s representation of her father’s native country at the Olympics came at the last minute. The International Olympic Committee had been negotiating with Saudi officials for months to ensure female participation from the country.

In the few minutes following the race, Sarah Attar’s name was trending worldwide on Twitter. As Saudis watched her run the race, many of them posted their reactions on the social network site.

“In a long time, I feel proud of being Saudi,” tweeted Yara Basharaheel. “Thank you, Sarah Attar.”

But not everyone felt the same. Many religious conservatives made it clear that they do not approve of her participation. The Saudi state sports television channels did not air the race.

“Do you think that those cheering for you are doing this because you achieved something great?” asked former Saudi footballer Faisal Abuthnain, who frequently appears on television to analyze local football league matches. “They are happy because you went against your society and the teaching of you religion.”

Attar said before the Games that she hoped that her participation at the Olympics would inspire Saudi women to get more involved in sports.

On Twitter, a girl named Tahani posted a message to Attar: “You are a role model, thank you for what you did.”