x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Olympics: Emirati teen raises the bar for female athletes

Khadija Mohammed becomes the youngest weightlifter at the Games.

The Dubai schoolgirl Khadija Mohammed, competing in the women's 75kg weightlifting, lifted a total of 113kgs. Photos by Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
The Dubai schoolgirl Khadija Mohammed, competing in the women's 75kg weightlifting, lifted a total of 113kgs. Photos by Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

LONDON // The Emirates Weightlifting Federation have expressed pride in Khadija Mohammed, who yesterday became the first ever UAE Olympian in the sport just two days after asking to return home from London due to homesickness.

The 17-year-old Dubai schoolgirl lifted a total 113kgs at the Excel Arena in east London, while competing in the 75kg weightclass at the Games.

Her composed appearance on stage totally belied the fact that two days previously she had begged to be put on a flight back to Dubai as the pressure of becoming the first female weightlifting Olympian from her country overwhelmed her.

"A couple of days ago she was in a big stress, but she managed to appear, and as the youngest athlete in weightlifting at these Games," said Sultan Bin Mejren, the president of the governing body for the sport in UAE. "As a federation we feel this appearance gives a big lift to the weightlifting sport for the future."

The UAE were granted one place at the Games on account of the performance of the female national team at the Asian Championships in Korea earlier this year.

Mohammed was selected from that team of six to be the lone representative, and was told of the decision last month, on her 17th birthday, and as she was leaving and end of term Arabic exam.

The national team are known to be an extremely close-knit group, and Mohammed appears to have been anxious about competing in London without her colleagues there.

The UAE weightlifting entourage at the Games extends to just the competitor, her coach Najwan El Zawawi, and Faisal Al Hammadi, the secretary general of the governing body.

Competing during Ramadan had also exacerbated the feelings of homesickness, according to Bin Mejren, who says he tried to coax her in to staying from the other end of a telephone line in Dubai.

"She was very, very stressed, which I can talk about now," Bin Mejren said. "She was crying for many days in the past week, and nobody knew about that.

"It was her secret, but she was under big stress because it was the first time appear in a competition of this size.

"It is the biggest event in the world, and she had been feeling homesick, especially during Ramadan which is the time when you are with all the members of the family.

"Yes, she was having fun with the atmosphere of the sport, but at the same time she was upset. Once, she said she wanted to come home."

Mohammed had visibly appeared to be loving her experience of the Games seven days earlier when she was one of the UAE representatives who did make it to the opening ceremony.

Bin Mejren says his federation are proud of her for representing the nation.

"I spoke to her on the telephone and told her she was carrying on her shoulders a very important message," the president said.

"She was representing the women's sports of UAE. She made history for the UAE and that made the media focus on her.

"We had to respect her feelings. When she appeared in the competition, she seemed very cool, which surprised me a lot.

"She now has that experience of competing in London, and that is really great. We really appreciate what she has done. Her appearing in the Olympic Games is history."

The governing body now hope having a female Olympian will spark a boom in participation in the sport among Emirati women.

"She must feel very proud, regardless of whether she won, broke records, or whatever she did," said Jassim Al Awazi, a board member for the federation.

"This is something new for her, and us. Some people didn't know we had a female athlete in weightlifting, now I am sure we will have a lot of ladies interested in the sport in future because of Khadija."

pradley@thenational.ae

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