POSTED: 2012-04-25 15:04:25
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aju George Chris / Doha Stadium Plus
DOHA: With three piercings on each ear, sprinter Noor Al Malki appears to be the perfect example of a new generation of Qatari women go-getters. She seemed perfectly at ease in front of a video camera and numerous TV journalists as she stretched, sprinted and posed on the starting blocks, enjoying her new-found stardom.
Noor, along with swimmer Nada Mohammed Wafa Arakji and 10M shooter Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad, are set to make history as Qatar’s first women competitors in the Olympics.
With less than 100 days to go for the Games, one would think the 17-year-old was a bag of nerves. But the down-to-earth youngster, who will travel to London as a wild card, has her objectives clearly set.
“For me, winning an Olympic medal or even a race isn’t the top priority. I just want to better my 100M personal-best mark (12.73). I’ll try hard for that,” she said, translating through her Tunisian coach Naima ben Amara.
To put things in perspective, Noor’s current best is still behind American Betty Robinson’s gold-medal winning effort of 12.2sec at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 when athletics events for women were introduced for the first time.
USA’s Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the current 100M Olympic mark (10.62), set in Seoul in ’88. The ‘A’ qualification mark for the London Games is 11.29 and ‘B’ is 11.38.
Despite her relatively poor timing, Noor received a vote of confidence from Qatar’s legendary 1,500M runner Mohammed Suleiman, the country’s first-ever Olympic medallist (bronze at the ’92 Barcelona Games). He drew parallels between his own performance and Noor’s emergence.
“I see a bit of myself in Noor. My first Olympics was Seoul ’88, as a 19-year-old. Four years later, I won bronze in Barcelona. It didn’t happen by accident, but by careful planning. At 17, she should aim to gain maximum experience from her first Games. She should try to qualify for the semifinal in Rio (’16) and be on the podium, probably in Doha, in ’20,” he said with a smile.
“Noor may be a wild-card entry, but she’s also a powerful symbol of the changing times. In ’92, people dismissed Qatar as just another nation. My medal helped change that perspective. Noor’s participation will forever alter the view that our country doesn’t encourage women’s sports,” he added.
Noor has gradually progressed through the ranks. Last year, she won a gold at the GCC Women’s Championship in Bahrain and silver at West Asian Youth Championships in Lebanon, both in 100M. A bronze in 4x100M relay at the Doha Arab Games remains one of her most significant achievements.
As a sports pioneer, hundreds of Qatari girls are sure to look up to her as a role model. But her own inspirational figure is Guangzhou Asian Games high jump champion Motaz Essa Barsham, who is also one of Qatar’s strongest medal contenders in London.
“Motaz is a genuine medal contender while I’m just a beginner. We were both members of Doha’s bid delegation for the ’17 World Championships in Monaco. We talked then and he gave me confidence to go on. I greatly value his advice,” she said.
Motaz too had kind words to say.
“I know what she’s going through. I too made history as Qatar’s first Asian Games high jump gold medallist. It’s all about keeping your final aim in perspective. She has a tough personality and it’ll help in London,” said the 21-year-old.
When asked who she would like to meet at the Games, pat came the reply.
“Usain Bolt, for sure. I would like to ask him if he feels the same passion for winning now, like he felt when he won for the first time. I also want to take a few sprinting lessons from him,” Noor said.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was how American Neil Armstrong described his first stepping on the moon. In Noor’s case, simply being a part of the Olympic Movement is a giant step not only for her, but for women athletes all over the region.
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