posted on 16/07/2012: 886 views
Najwan El Zawawi didn't have the Olympics in mind when she arrived to set up a weightlifting programme in the UAE four years ago. Her main aim was just to recruit a handful of girls whose families allowed them to participate, no small task considering no Gulf nation had ever established a women's team.
The number of school girls venturing to the team's training gym in Dubai has grown into double figures and this year El Zawawi, a former Egyptian Olympic lifter, was rewarded for her perseverance. The UAE team did well enough at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in South Korea to earn a spot at the London Olympics a first for a Gulf country.
"Four years ago, I thought it would be impossible to reach the Olympics,” said Zawawi, who competed in the 69-kilogramme category at the 2000 Sydney Games. "But then we went to South Korea and planned how as a team we could get one spot in the Olympics. The plan was better than other countries. We knew we could do better at qualifying at heavyweight and superheavyweight division.”
Four girls returned to the UAE to compete for the one spot and Khadija Mohammed, 17-year-old student with a disarming smile, was chosen. She has only been lifting for two years but now has the chance to make history in the 75-kilogramme category.
"I am so happy and I will challenge myself and I will work hard to win a medal,” said Khadija, speaking above the clang of weights and laughter of her teammates mastering the clean and jerk and snatch.
"I will be so happy to represent the UAE and accomplish something for the country.”
Khadija will not only make history as the first female lifter from the Gulf at the Olympics but the first female Emirati to qualify outright for the Olympics.
The UAE sent their first two women the Olympics in 2008 among them Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum but they both received wild-card invitations from the International Olympic Committee.
Khadija is not expected to challenge for a medal because she is less experienced than the favourites in her weight category, which includes Nadezda Evstyukhina of Russia, Svetlana Podobedova of Kazakhstan and Lidia Valentin of Spain. She only finished seventh in qualifying. But taking the stage in the UAE colours will go a long way to establishing the sport for women in the region.
"It will be a shocking thing for people to know that a girl (from the UAE) is participating,” Khadija said. Her team-mate and friend Alanood Abdulla Faraj said Mohammed's participation in London will be a boon to women.
"I've been told this is not for women,” Faraj said. "Women can do more. There are women who are ministers, presidents of countries who are women. So the status of women will only go higher by playing this sport.” - The Gulf Today / Associated Press
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