Noor Hussain Al-Malki sat in Lane 3, face in her hands, barely a dozen painful strides from where her first Olympic race began.
By JOHN PYE
AP Sports Writer
Qatar’s Noor Hussain Al-Malki sits on the track after suffering injury in a women’s 100-meter heat during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.
LONDON —Noor Hussain Al-Malki sat in Lane 3, face in her hands, barely a dozen painful strides from where her first Olympic race began.
It was a short, somewhat bittersweet and definitely unprecedented effort.
The 17-year-old Al-Malki was the first Qatari woman to compete in track and field at the Olympics, after the country decided to include female athletes – four in total – in its delegation for the first time.
Wearing a maroon headscarf, long sleeves and leggings, she stood out among the starters in the preliminaries in the women’s 100 meters Friday morning. She was slow out of the blocks, appeared to be very tight, and finally clutched at her right leg before stopping after about 15 meters.
The official result is listed as DNF, but just being there was a significant achievement.
After covering her face momentarily, Al-Malki got to her feet and slowly limped off the track, encouraged by support from a crowd of around 80,000 that had packed the Olympic Stadium mostly to support local hope Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon in the opening session of track and field at the London Games.
Al-Malki was then pushed out of the competition arena in a wheelchair.
It wasn’t exactly a loud statement of arrival on the international stage, but she’s still a trailblazer for other female athletes from the region.
Conservative Islamic nations Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei were the last countries to enter women in the Olympics, each sending female athletes to London.
The first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympics was easily defeated earlier Friday by a Puerto Rican opponent in a judo bout that lasted only 82 seconds. Wearing a tight-fitting black cap after judo officials would not allow her to don a headscarf, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani lost the one-sided match to Melissa Mojica.
Al-Malki had more people watching on the busiest day so far at the Olympic Park. And while Al-Malki didn’t speak to the media as she left the arena, the International Olympic Committee thought she’d done enough.
“I think we should be celebrating today because we have woman athletes from two of the three countries who haven’t sent women to the games before competing,” IOC communications director Mark Adams said of the quick exits of Al-Malki and Shahrkhani. “It is a great symbol, it is a great message to women in those countries. I think we are entirely happy about that.”
Adams was convinced Al-Malki was injured, and hadn’t succumbed to stage fright or anything else.
“I believe the Qatari woman athlete had an injury,” he said. “If she had wanted not to compete, she wouldn’t have come. Clearly she wanted to compete and she couldn’t compete.
“Did we expect them to win gold medals? Probably not. But they’re here, they’re competing and I think we should be very happy,” Adams said.
London organizers said the participation of Al-Malki and Shahrkhani was a significant step: For the first time, every one of the 205 competing nations has included female participants in the Olympics.
“The taking part is also a huge part of these Olympic Games,” said Debbie Jevans, director of sport for the local organizers. “I definitely regard that as a huge positive and it is a thrill for us to see them competing.”
Another female athlete from the Middle East, Jordan’s Rima Taha, ran in the first heat of the 100 preliminaries and will forever remember the experience.
“It was even more than I expected. … This is a big encouragement for me to do better in the future,” she said, adding that she wanted to inspire other young athletes in Jordan.
“I am still young,” she said, “but that’s my priority for the future.”
Al-Makri’s personal best time of 12.61 seconds is almost two seconds outside the Olympic record and the 1.55-meter (5-foot-1), 43-kilogram (95-pound) sprinter isn’t going to be challenging the world’s best anytime soon. But she’s already served as an athlete ambassador for the Qatar Olympic bid for 2020 and for women across the region.
Al-Walki, after learning of her Olympic selection as one of four female competitors on the Qatar team, hoped to lead by example.
“I want to tell all Qatari girls and women that sport is very good,” she was quoted as saying by the Olympic News Service. “I want to show all people that sport is very important and we should support all who want to take part in it.”