Qatar's first female sprinter feels no pressure

Reuters, Thursday 12 Jul 2012

The twin challenges of being Qatar's first female Olympian and running while fasting during Ramadan do not faze teenage sprinter Noor Al-Malki

Noor Al-Malki
Qatar's sprinter Noor Al-Malki (Photo: Reuters)

Surely the 17-year-old will feel the pressure in London, a city she has never visited before?.

"No, it's fine," she told Reuters by telephone from Doha. "Participation is very important and I have to do my best and there is pressure in terms of training because you have to work in order to get where you want to be.

"(But) everything is okay in terms of training and I hope God is on my side to achieve a new record at the competition."

That record may be limited to a new personal best as Al-Malki has no chance of success in London.

The personal best of 12.7 seconds she clocked in a 100m race in Doha in May is more than a second slower than the Olympic B qualifying standard of 11.38 but, as Qatar's top sprinter, she is still entitled to represent her country.

Al-Malki, along with swimmer Nada Arakji and shooter Bahia Al Hamad, will give the Gulf state female representation at an Olympic Games for the first time after 28 years of the country sending male-only squads.

Running during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are expected to fast during daylight hours, was an issue she would address closer to the July 27-Aug. 12 Games, Al-Malki said.

"I will fast but if it becomes challenging then I will reconsider," she said. "I will have to talk to my coach and the nurse has to see me to decide on what to do about Ramadan. We have not discussed it yet."

In 2008 Al-Malki was chosen for Qatar's first female training squad and now trains for two hours a day under the guidance of Naima Ben Amara, a former Tunisian track athlete.

Al-Malki, one of 12 children, said her parents - a retired police officer and a former teacher - had given her great support.

"We are a family that loves sports and my parents are very happy and very supportive. They have encouraged me to focus on sports," she said.

"They pray for me, they are the ones pushing me to train. They give me hope, confidence and take my fear away."

Al-Malki said she would run in London wearing a headscarf and with her arms and legs covered in keeping with the norms of her Muslim homeland, and was not worried about any possible adverse reaction from fellow athletes or spectators.

"They might say: 'She's covered up' but this is our religion," she said. "I am very proud of it and I will not listen to what people say."

Given her youth and lack of experience, just being in London will be an achievement for Al-Malki but the teenager said that in the long term she planned to be much more than a footnote in the world of athletics.

"I finished school last July and I don't know about university but I want to concentrate on sports after the Olympics," she said.

"My ambition is that I first want to be...a champion of the Arab world, and then a champion on the world stage."

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