Dreams Come True
for Muslim and Arab Athletes
at the 2016 Rio Olympics
By: Yasmina Blackburn
The 2016 Rio Olympics brought shining moments for avid and fair weather fans alike. From gymnastics to swimming, records were broken and medals were celebrated bringing needed respite from our typical, gloomy headline news. The Olympics also brought Muslim and Arab athletes to the world stage.
Fencing athlete, Ibtihaj Muhammad, made headlines and made history as the first American to wear hijab representing team USA in the Olympics. Though she didn’t medal, she won hearts around the globe and did a great service to American Muslims standing on the world stage hijab-clad and empowered to face the world’s toughest competition.
Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo won the first medal for her country taking home the gold in 52kg judo. Newly recognized by the International Olympic Committee, Kosovo had a small delegation which added pressure to Kelmendi who was honored to bring a positive distraction to the troubles that plague her country. Kelmendi did a fine job indeed, edging out athletes from Italy, Japan and Russia.
Distance Runner, Mohamed "Mo" Farah, is a highly decorated British athlete originally from Somalia. Farah brought home Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016 in the 5,000 meter and the 10,000 meter races. A devout Muslim, Farah prepares for his athletic events through prayer and dua once stating, "I normally pray before a race, I read dua, think about how hard I've worked and just go for it. The Qur'an says that you must work hard in whatever you do, so I work hard in training and that's got a lot to do with being successful. Doesn't just come overnight, you've got to train for it and believe in yourself; that's the most important thing."
Kianoush Rostami is an Iranian of Kurdish descent. He won Olympic gold in weightlifting at the 2016 games setting a new world record. He received a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games that is being upgraded to silver after his competitor received a doping violation. Rostami competed at the 2016 games without a coach stating, “We've sometimes had problems in the past with Iranian coaches. I'm sorry but nobody can help me now.”
Elif Jale Yesilirmak competed at the Olympics representing Turkey in wrestling. She is a Muslim convert of Russian decent. Though she didn’t medal at this year’s games, Yesilirmak is the first woman wrestler ever to represent Turkey at the Olympic Games.
Jordan’s first Olympic champion, taekwondo gold medal winner Ahmad Abughaush, has made his country proud. The 20-year-old was met at the airport by fans and royalty telling reporters he hopes to “uphold this title which I achieved this year, and to win in the upcoming Olympics 2020.” Abughaush was born in Amman, Jordan and his father is of Palestinian descent.
Sarah Attar is a track and field athlete who made history in 2012 for being the first female to represent Saudi Arabia for her sport. She returned to Rio in 2016 where she finished second to last. Attar was raised in California but holds dual citizenship with Saudi Arabia where women athletes struggle to reach their athletic potential with laws restricting the activities of women.
Aisha Al Balushi carried the flag for the United Arab Emirates at the 2016 Olympics representing women’s weightlifting. Though she didn’t medal, she was honored to represent the UAE standing in for Amna Al Haddad who had suffered a back injury.
Bringing home the gold for Team America was Dalilah Muhammad competing in track and field. Her specialty is the 400 meter hurdle where she has a personal record of 52.88 seconds. She was the 2013 and 2016 American national champion winning gold in the Rio Olympics’ for the same event.
The Olympics has long represented a place where politics are shunned, hopes and dreams are pronounced and peace is at the forefront. "The Olympic Games are about a lot more than sport. They go beyond competition," Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in Rio during this years' games," highlighting the Olympic Village as a symbol where global athletics live together peacefully.
"Diversity is one of the pillars of our society," Bach stated. "We are so proud that 206 nations from the whole world [participated] in Rio."