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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Olympics 2012: The Year of the Woman

History is always made at the Olympics. But for the first time, in 2012 London, women are represented on the Olympic team of all 205 national delegations. The three countries that have never had female athletes--Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia--each have them competing for the gold.

Of course, winning is important. But with the competitors serving as role models for our children, strength of character and positive values really matters too. Aren’t we all eager to hear the athletes’ personal stories? Fortunately the same threads often weave throughout--follow your heart, love what you do, reach for your goals, don’t limit your dreams, work hard and have fun.

The first time female athletes from Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also sending encouraging messages to the enthusiastic and impressionable young women in their countries. Here’s what some of them have to say:

Maziah Mahusin, the first woman to carry the national flag of Brunei, will be running the 400 meter hurdles and is determined to break her own record. She acknowledges that this is just the beginning: “It is my aspiration to see more young women athletes participate in sports. I think women in Brunei should not give up too easily, and must have a lot of patience and constantly motivate oneself towards self-improvement.”

Also chosen as flag bearer, Bahiya Al-Hamad, an air rifle shooter, speaks about changing attitudes in Qatar: "It's a historic moment.....Before, shooting was only for guys but now it is becoming normal for females to an extent."

Sarah Attar, a distance runner from California who holds dual American and Saudi citizenships, plans to become a "big inspiration" for women and sports in Saudi Arabia. And speaking directly to Saudi women, "To any woman who wants to participate I say, 'go for it,' and don't let anybody hold you back. We all have potential to get out there and get moving."

When Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin spearheaded the first modern Olympics in 1896 he excluded women, saying it would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect." This year the US had more women than men for the first time in history. That’s a far cry from 1900, when women first competed in Paris and comprised all of 22 athletes out of the 997 overall competitors.

Afghan sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is symbolic of the advances made by women Olympians. She is only the third woman in the history of her war-torn country and the only woman this year. "A lot of people are supporting me, but a lot of people don’t. Some time they were saying that I’m not a good girl because I’m doing sport. They think I am wrong, but I am not wrong. If I got a medal, I think I will start a new way for the girls (and) women of Afghanistan. They will believe themselves that they can do everything they want."

Bringing these women, courageous and filled with gratitude, into the London games is a big step. Let’s all recognize their place in history. Perhaps the next step will be to accelerate the process of change within each nation and nurture more female athletes.

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