Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Asian Games: Muslim dress makes me even faster, sprinter says

AP , DOHA, QATAR

Bahrain's Ruqaya al-Ghasara sprints to the finish in the women's 200m final at Khalifa Stadium in Doha on Monday. Al-Ghasara won the 200m in 23.19 seconds to beat Uzbekistan's 100m champion, Guzel Khubbieva.

PHOTO: AFP

Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya al-Ghasara says she isn't held back by running in a hijab, or full Muslim headscarf. In fact, she says, it makes her even quicker.

"Wearing traditional Muslim dress has encouraged me. It's not an obstacle -- quite the opposite," said al-Ghasara, who won the gold medal in the 200m on Monday night in 23.19 seconds.

The bronze-medal winner earlier in the 100m, al-Ghasara is instantly recognizable in her full-length running suit which leaves only her hands and face exposed. It's only traditional in spirit, however: The fabric is clingy and stretchable and her white hajib headwear bears the swoosh trademark of her sponsor.

Al-Ghasara said her outfit is a personal choice, although tradition weighs heavily. While other Bahraini female athletes compete in the clothing more typical of their sports, many are naturalized Bahraini citizens who were not raised Muslim.

Yet al-Ghasara, who claims US sprinter Marion Jones as a role model, said she hoped her clothing choice would inspire other Muslim women to join in competitive sports.

The 15th Asian Games are the first to be held in an Arab state, and Doha officials are using it as a test run to bid for the 2016 Olympics. Other Muslim women have competed in clothes that conform with their traditions, but al-Ghasara has the highest profile.

"Wearing the hijab shows that there are no obstacles. I've set my best times wearing the hijab and even qualified for Osaka in it," she said, referring to the Japanese city which is hosting next year's World Championships.

The 24-year-old athlete was a latecomer to track in a nation where women have traditionally been discouraged from competition. Discovered running on her high school track, she was pointed out to Bahraini coach Tadjine Noureddine, who led her to her first gold medals at the 2002 Arab Games in Jordan.

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