For most athletes, finishing in last place would not be any cause for celebration, but for Saudi runner Sarah Attar, the true victory was the chance to compete. Attar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in athletics at the Olympics, competing in the women's 800 meter run.
Attar was one of two Saudi female athletes to compete at the London Olympic games. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, another Saudi Arabian female, competed in the judo competition on Friday. Attar's participation in the Olympics represents real progress in the struggle for women’s equality, giving hope to women in other repressive countries that equality is possible one day.
Covered from head-to-toe, as required by the nation’s conservative Islamic law, Attar finished in last place in her event (with a not-so-impressive time of 2:44.95s). However, Attar was shown with a huge smile on her face after the race, thrilled to be competing in the race altogether. In an a BBC Radio 5 interview, Attar said, “It is such an honor to be representing Saudi Arabia. Hopefully this can make such a huge difference… to make that first step for women is just the most amazing feeling ever.”
Meanwhile, although judo competitor Shahrkhani did not make it past the first round, she too was “happy to be at the Olympics,” and hopes to return to the games and be “a star for women’s participation.”
Yet, in spite of her desire to honor her country, many Saudis slammed Shahrkhani, saying she was going against Islamic law by participating in the judo match. Critics were unhappy that Shahrkhani wore a black cap in place of a traditional hijab (to prevent choking) and that she competed in front of men. Sadly, this kind of disapproval from fellow Saudi Arabians shows that nation still has a long way to go before women’s equality becomes a reality.
Nonetheless, Shahrkhani and Attar both have plenty of supporters. On Twitter, Attar got several shout-outs from people all around the world who wanted to congratulate her on her historic moment. With every move, the two Olympians proudly represented their country, forging a path for Saudi Arabia to send more female athletes in the future.