Nada Mohammed Wafa Arkaji will be one of the first female athletes Qatar sends to the Olympics. She says it’s just the start of her journey.
The 17-year-old swimmer will join two other Qatari women at the London games to represent the conservative Gulf state. Bahiya Al-Hamad, 19, will compete in shooting events, and 17-year-old sprinter Noor Al-Malki will participate on the track when the games open July 27.
“I am sure that it’s going to be a great experience and opportunity for me,” Arkaji said. “This is just the start of my journey. Now I am going to focus on the experience. I am going to try my hardest but also I am going to enjoy the experience.”
Qatar, which this week lost its bid to host the 2020 Olympics, will host soccer’s 2022 World Cup. The women are the first the Muslim country will send to the games after criticism of its all-male squad. While Brunei is also sending women to the Olympics for the first time this year, neighboring Saudi Arabia rejected the idea. Qatar, a nation of about 1.7 million people, has become a major mediator in Arab affairs as well as an investor in European assets.
Arkaji is the only woman on the national swim team. She will compete in the 50-meter freestyle. Her personal best in the event is 30 seconds, outside the 25.27 qualifying time and 24.06 Olympic record.
Her father played on Qatar’s national soccer team and encouraged his daughter’s participation. Her parents plan to attend the games in London.
An only child, she began swimming at age 9 with a local club. She took part in her first major international competition, the Arab games, in December, coming sixth.
“I guess there was something about the water,” Arkaji said. “I enjoyed it. Everyone was encouraging, especially my parents and the school as well.”
She said she’s proud to represent the country, and that she’s only gotten positive comments from other citizens.
“I think that Qatar is doing so much to encourage girls and boys to take up sports,” she said. “The facilities we have here are incredible. All the athletes should be very lucky.”
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei were the only countries not to send women to the 2008 games in Beijing. Arkaji said she wants to inspire other girls to take up sports and compete at a high level. She plans to go to the 2016 summer games in Brazil.
“So far, there are little kids, but for my age, it’s just me” competing,” she said. “Hopefully, I will be able to start a trend, which will mean a lot to me.”