Qatari table tennis player Aia Mohamed’s pioneering role at the London Olympics lasted all of 18 minutes.
Mohamed and three teammates are the first women sent by the Gulf state to an Olympics. With Saudi Arabia and Brunei also sending women for the first time, the London games mark the first Olympiad at which every nation has at least one female representative.
Mohamed, a wild-card entrant who is turning 18 today, lost 11-3, 11-7, 11-6, 11-3 to China’s Zhang Mo on July 28. No game in the 4-0 match lasted longer than five minutes.
“I feel really proud,” Mohamed said yesterday in an interview in the Athletes Village. “We’re very happy. The Olympics is a huge thing for us.”
Mohamed wore a gray headscarf and was accompanied by a Qatari teammate, 100-meter runner Noor Hussain Al-Malki, another of the groundbreaking women on the squad.
“It’s our first Olympics,” Mohamed said. “We are very honored to represent Qatar here at the Olympics for the first time.”
Qatar, which earlier this year lost a bid for the 2020 Olympics, will host soccer’s 2022 World Cup and has been using sports to raise its profile. The charitable foundation run by the country’s ruling family sponsors four-time European soccer champion Barcelona and has spent more than $150 million on new talent since buying French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain.
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.
Mohamed, who said she only found out she’d been selected to travel to London a month before the games started, said she was consoled after her loss by the head of the country’s Olympic federation, Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
“He said, ‘Even if you lost it’s an honor to be here, so enjoy the experience,’” Mohamed said.
Mohamed, who was born in Egypt, said her experience in London will boost the profile of women athletes in Qatar and may lead to more being selected for the team when the Olympics is staged in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The Qatari team is housed in a part of the Athletes Village that includes Nigerians, Koreans, Bahrainis, Tunisians and, much to Mohamed’s delight, Chinese -- who have several of the world’s best table tennis players.
“To be at the Olympic Games is a huge step for me,” she said. “Playing more games will improve my technical skills and also watching the games, too. It’s the Olympics, so the best players from all over the world are playing.”
Asked what advice she had for Al-Malki, who has a best of 12.53 seconds in a race in which the Olympic record in 10.62, Mohamed turned to look at her teammate.
“Enjoy it, even if she doesn’t win,” Mohamed said. “Really, it’s a huge experience for her and also for us.”