With the incredible performances of women at the Olympic Games, selecting this week’s Page 1 Woman, hasn’t been easy. Sports women such as Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott, Nicola Adams, Missy Franklin and several more could have been given the title. Although they all embody the Winning Pathways concept of winning women, in my eyes a group of women less well known stand out from the crowd. And these are the women who will share the title of Page 1 Women of the week; Sarah Attar, (800 metres runner) and Wojdan Shaherkani (Judo), both from Saudi Arabia, Noor Hussain Al-Malki (100 metre sprinter), Nada Arakji (swimmer), Aia Mohamed (table tennis player) and Bahia Al Hamad (shooter) all from Qatar and Maziah Mahusin (400 metres sprinter) from Brunei.
So why these particular women? They are the first women to represent their countries at the Olympic Games. Against a backdrop of entrenched political, social, religious and sporting obstacles back home, they were only allowed to do so because of the International Olympic Committee’s decree that all participating nations should include women in their teams or be banned. Three cheers to the IOC! Not all these women met the qualifying standards for entry to the Olympic Games. But who cares! Better to have had women represented in the three countries’ teams than none at all and for them to seize the opportunity to create winning pathways for those coming up behind.
‘The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part’ said Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. But how many Olympians with hand on heart would agree? Would the likes of Usain Bolt or Sir Chris Hoy agree? If they weren’t winning medals or breaking records would they be content to merely participate? Without a shadow of a doubt, these women would agree. When you’re denied equal opportunities and you’re seen as second class by your culture, any small step towards equality becomes a giant leap for woman kind. So merely participating in the Olympic Games becomes revolutionary. No matter that all these women experienced early knock outs from their events. None seemed disappointed – they’d participated! Finishing last in her 400 metres heat, sprinter Maziah Mahusin summed it up nicely, “I’m really proud, even though I didn’t win anything, even though I didn’t get into the semi-final or whatever”.
To these courageous and inspirational women competing internationally for the first time was likely to have been daunting. Next to the scanty sports gear of non-Muslim participants, being completely clad from head to foot would have made them stand out from the crowd. And Wojdan Shaherkani faced the uncertainty of whether for safety reasons she could wear her hijab in her judo match and therefore whether she could take part. She covered her hair with a tight cap in the end, but this was enough to unnerve any 16 year old participating in big competition for the first time. But the reception from the crowds has been fantastic. When Sarah Attar competed in the 800m heats, she may have finished last, but the roar from the crowd as she crossed the finishing line was tremendous. Speaking afterwards, she said, ‘Hopefully, this marks something amazing. It was about the cause, not about if I won or not. I wanted to make a difference. To make that first step for women is the most amazing feeling.’
Being the first in their country to compete in the games means so much more than winning a medal. Not only have they won a place in history, but pioneer status is now theirs – doing what generations of women before them weren’t allowed to do. And more than that, they are now role models for women, particularly those who dream of being free to compete at the Olympic Games but never dared to hope it would come true. For tennis player, Aia Mohamed, ‘The Olympics was in my heart but I didn’t realise I would be here. It is like a dream come true. I want younger players to live what we have just lived. It is every athletes dream to reach the Olympics and thank god I achieved that dream, and hopefully I will be there in Rio in 2016′.
Who is your page 1 Woman of the week? Send me her name here and get her featured.