Wojdan Shaherkani

On Friday, August 3, 2012, a 16-year-old judoka named Wojdan Shaherkani became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympics.

I'm glad the precedent has been set, but seeing Shaherkani's judo, and reading that she's not terribly experienced and has never competed nationally, makes this weird for me. What I expected to see was an athlete sick of cultural obstacles and hungry to fight. What I saw was a girl who was in way over her head and could have gotten hurt. As I watched the match, one thing I liked very much was that her opponent was kind to her. [Update: The video at nbcolympics.com is no longer available. The only other video I've found of the match is here.]

I was surprised at her uniform. Her country couldn't provide her with one that fit? Or was the loose fit needed because of Sharia law? I know sleeves that are too short are not allowed; I thought there was a similar rule for sleeves that are too long. Was an exception made for her?

I have a feeling I'm missing the point, and her goal was never to fight so much as to break a barrier. It's not her fault if I made up some image of her in my head. If she does want to fight, I hope her country will let her train properly for 2016. And regardless of her future in judo, I hope she's duly proud of what she did today. You could argue that precisely because she isn't a seasoned competitor, it was that much braver.

Update: I heard the cheers when Shaherkani stepped on the mat, but I didn't see this part after the match:

For Shaherkani, stepping down from the mat after her contest to a standing ovation, it all got a little too much. She walked into the arms of her father, a judo referee who is also her trainer, and broke down in tears.

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