London Olympics: Saudi judoka wordless as man speaks for her

Her presence a historic turning point, in spite of defeat

03 August, 18:19

(ANSAMed) - LONDON, AUGUST 3 - A shy, wordless Wojdan Shaherkhani faced an eager throng of reporters after the fight that saw her defeated in 1.22 mins. on Friday, and a man spoke for her. ''We are very proud of her, and we thank everyone for the support you have given us. This has been a turning point,'' Saudi Judo Federation President Hani Kamal Najm answered in the 18-year-old athlete's stead, keeping the young girl cordoned off by two crowd control barriers and two male minders. Wojdan Shaherkhani was one of just two women competing for Saudi Arabia at the games, the first time the Gulf state has sent female athletes at all, but this was not the only reason reporters were so eager to talk to her.

In spite of her swift defeat at the hands of Puerto Rican judoka Melissa Mojica, Shaherkhani gained media notoriety because of the controversy over her hijab, the religiously-mandated veil for Muslim women, which Olympic organizers said might hinder and even harm her on the mat. She was only able to compete after a compromise between Olympic organizers, the International Judo Federation and Saudi officials that cleared the way for her to wear a modified hijab: a tight-fitting black cap, signed by a Dutch designer. ''Yes, I was very scared. I'm also happy and proud, because this is the beginning of a new era. I hope this will bring more participation, in other sports as well,'' the young judoka made known in a communique issued after her minders whisked her into the athletes' area, which is off limits to reporters.

For her part, Mojica's comment was succinct: ''Hijab or no hijab makes no difference to me. All I'm thinking about is my next opponent.'' (ANSAMed).


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