Faye Sultan’s gone from the children’s pool to swimming with Olympians.
The 17-year-old is one of two women Kuwait is sending to the London Games, which officially start in two days. Sultan will compete in the 50-meter freestyle and joins another nine Kuwaitis, including female shooter Mariam Razouki, according to Obaid Al-Enezi, secretary general of the country’s Olympic committee.
Sultan is the first female swimmer to represent Kuwait in the Olympics. She said her interest in swimming was driven by the lack of a female national team and to change the perception of women in her country. She’s the daughter of Tarek Sultan, chairman of Agility, a Kuwaiti storage and logistics company, and said she began training with a coach at the age of 9.
“It’s been both difficult and easy,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions. “There’s a dearth of sporting opportunities for women, and access to facilities and organized programs is limited. When I started training I had to swim in a children’s pool and I couldn’t complete my swim strokes without touching the bottom. The biggest challenge is not having sufficient competitive meets and training opportunities.”
Sultan said she was “adopted” by the men’s national swim team, which helped her train and gave her access to better facilities.
“I hope that my participation in the Olympics encourages more women to participate in sports and spurs our society to provide more opportunities for women to develop in sports and society as a whole,” Sultan said.
Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights in 2005. There are four Kuwaiti women in parliament, one of them appointed as a Cabinet minister. The conservative Gulf state has sent women to the Olympics twice before, according to Al-Enezi.
Saudi Arabia is sending female athletes to the Olympic Games for the first time this year. Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in judo at the London Games and Sarah Attar will run the 800 meters. Qatar has sent three female athletes to the games.
“We expect good results from shooters and athletics,” Al-Enezi said by telephone.