Saudi woman’s historic bow over in 82 seconds
Sat, 04 August 2012
LONDON — Judoka Wojdan Shaherkani became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete at the Olympics while Teddy Riner and home favourite Karina Bryant lit up the ExCel Arena yesterday. Shaherkani, 16, walked onto the judo mat and bowed to her opponent Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico before gripping up to make history. But her debut lasted just 82 seconds before she was thrown for the maximum ippon.
She broke down in tears in her father's arms — himself a referee at the competition — as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. "I'm proud, I'm happy and I want to continue in judo. I want to thank the fans for their support," said Shaherkani after it was all over. "I was disturbed and afraid at the beginning, it was my first time in a big competition and there was a lot of pressure because of the hijab issue."
Shaherkani's headwear almost cost her this opportunity after International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said she wouldn't be allowed to compete in a hijab. In the end a deal was struck between judo officials and Saudi authorities and she appeared in a black, swimming cap. Shaherkani was one of two women sent from the conservative kingdom to an Olympics for the first time, but the Saudis only agreed on condition that their athletes respect a strict dress code.
The second competitor is American-raised 800m runner Sarah Attar who grew up mostly in California, where she took up cross-country running. Once the euphoria of Shaherkani moment had died down yesterday, the business of chasing the last two judo gold medals on offer at these Games took centre stage. And the favourites looked in ominous shape. Five-time world champion Riner is looking to make up for the disappointment of missing out on gold in Beijing, where he took bronze.
And the Frenchman gave every indication that he will take some stopping. He had to content himself with a victory on penalties over 170 kg Pole Janusz Wojnarowicz. Riner struggled similarly against Tunisian Faicel Jaballah until he struck with a picture-perfect uchi-mata (inner thigh throw), 11 seconds from the end. And in the quarterfinal he used brute strength to turn Cuba's Oscar Brayson over onto his back to pin him down.
He will face South Korean Kim Sung-Min in the semifinals. Kim beat Ihar Makarau of Belarus in the quarters. Until then Makarau had been wreaking havoc, beating fourth seed Islam El Shahaby of Egypt and then Japan's Daiki Kamikawa. That loss ensured Japan's men will finish an Olympic judo competition without a gold medal for the first time ever. It also meant the team overall cannot top the judo medals table, something that has not happened since the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, when they came third behind the hosts and Poland. — AFP
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