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Olympics

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Her run meant more than medal

Fans give Saudi woman standing O as she brings up rear in 800 metres

Posted: 08/9/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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LONDON -- Sarah Attar finished last and more than a half-minute slower than her nearest competitor in the women's 800 metres. Yet hundreds rose to give her a standing ovation as she crossed the finish line.

For the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in track and field at the Olympics, the principle was more important than the performance Wednesday.

Covered in clothing from head to toe, except for her smiling face poking out from her hood, Attar made her debut five days after a Saudi judo athlete became the ultraconservative country's first female competitor at any Olympics.

"This is such a huge honour and an amazing experience, just to be representing the women," Attar said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I know that this can make a huge difference."

The 19-year-old Attar ran 800 metres in two minutes, 44.95 seconds. To her, the time wasn't the point.

Her mother is American and her father is Saudi. She has dual citizenship, was born in California and runs track at Pepperdine University near Los Angeles.

Attar wanted to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics as a way of inspiring women.

"For women in Saudi Arabia, I think this can really spark something to get more involved in sports, to become more athletic," she said. "Maybe in the next Olympics, we can have a very strong team to come."

This year, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia broke its practice of fielding male-only teams by entering Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in judo and Attar in track and field.

Saudi Arabia is one of three Islamic countries, along with Qatar and Brunei, that brought female athletes for the first time, making this the first Olympics in which every national team includes a woman.

Attar wore a long-sleeved green jacket, full-length black running pants and a white hood. When she was introduced, the crowd responded with a hearty roar. Attar appeared to be taken aback and responded with a wave, a wide smile and a bit of a chuckle.

Against some of the fastest runners in the world, Attar lined up in Lane 8 and lagged behind immediately. It didn't really matter. As the next-to-last racer crossed the finish line, the Olympic Stadium announcer let everyone know where their attention needed to be, intoning: "And 150 metres to go for Sarah Attar."

As she ran along, swinging her arms and breathing heavily, fans clapped in appreciation and support, and hundreds rose to give her a standing ovation as she approached the finish line.

"I mean, seeing the support like that, it's just an amazing experience," she said later.

"I was so excited to be a part of it. I really hope this can be the start of something amazing."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2012 C6

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