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LONDON: If I worked at Nike, I’d be on the phone right now to my design department. “We need hijabs for athletes. We need them in Dry-Fit material. We need them in the colours of all the Muslim countries in these Olympic Games and we need them on the market asap. Oh, and sign up that Sarah Attar while you’re at it.”
Attar ran in the last heat of the 800 metres yesterday. She came home 44 seconds after Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei of Kenya had won in two minutes and 1.04 seconds. She was around 22 seconds off the pace after 400m. She ran for the longest time, but she was running for the longest journey, for equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. She is one of the two women on the Saudi team. The other, Wojdan Shaherkani, a judoka, is just 16. Attar is 19.
They are the first women to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics. Reports from Saudi Arabia suggest that there are a number of Saudis describing Attar and Shaherkani as the “prostitutes of the Olympics”. Attar, though, has given Muslim woman a face.
The Olympic Stadium fell for her yesterday, picking up that the girl in the white jijab, the long-sleeved green top and the black tights and green running spikes was someone different.
For them, that meant she was special and they lauded her from when she finished the first lap. For the next 400m she had the stadium with her, following her around, the sound building to a roar as she crossed the line.
“I just wanted to come out, and do what I can, represent the women and hopefully make a difference over there,” said Attar, who has dual US nationality, lives in California and has an accent to match. Over there is Saudi Arabia.
“Yeah, it’s crazy to be a part of (history), but it really is going to be a huge first step for them. Hopefully this will spark something amazing.”
Her time meant little to her.
“Being here was really about the cause. It wasn’t about if I won or not, it was that I was allowed to come and represent the women over there.
“Having so many people supporting me was incredible. It’s incredible to be in such an environment. It’s an honour.”
When Mo Farah ran in the 5 000m heats in the Olympic Park a little before Attar yesterday morning, the voices of his countrymen followed him around the track.
It was, said David Isaacson from the Sunday Times sitting next to me, like an “audio Mexican Wave”. It seemed an awfully long way away from when Aidan Burley, the Conservative member of parliament, who tweeted that the Olympic opening ceremony had been too multi-cultural: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural c**p. Bring back Red Arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!”
Burley was slated for that, as some threatened to hang him up by a leather Nazi jockstrap or whatever it was that he wore at a Nazi stag party.
Farah is Muslim, having moved to England at the age of eight from Somalia.
He threatens to become the most famous Muslim in Britain. Attar may become the most famous Muslim women in the world.