Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

Kariman Abuljadayel running the 100m at the Rio Games.
Updated 20 July 2018

Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

  • Saudi sprinter made history at Rio Olympics becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100m
  • Abuljadayel hopes to inspire more women into taking up sport in Saudi Arabia

Kariman Abuljadayel has not finished making history. The Saudi Arabian sprinter made a name for herself as the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100 meters at the Olympics. That race in Rio de Janeiro two years ago did much to change the perception of female athletes in Saudi Arabia, coming four years after Sarah Attar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to take part in the global games.
What could prove to be more of a boon for women in the Kingdom than even Abuljadayel’s and Attar’s remarkable runs are the changes currently taking place in the country. Last month the ban on women driving was lifted, just a few months after females were allowed in sports stadiums and the inaugural all-women’s run took place in Riyadh in March.
Abuljadayel said she hopes that these moves will prove to be game-changers, not just in terms of equality, but that they will also be a springboard to success for aspiring Saudi Arabian sportswomen.
“I feel like the idea of allowing Saudi girls to drive is giving them independence, empowering them to dream and (helping them) achieve that dream,” she told Arab News.
“It will facilitate them getting to sports events and help in many areas. And will being able to attend sports events boost women’s sport? Definitely.
“I want girls to appreciate the opportunities that Saudi Arabia is creating and not take them for granted. They need to take these opportunities and experiences to help them grow.
“I believe it is only a matter of time before we will be a society fully promoting sport.”
If the latter goal is embraced with the zeal with which the 24-year-old Abuljadayel exudes and attacks every training session, she believes great things beckon for Saudi Arabian sport, despite the country’s unremarkable Olympic track record. The Kingdom has claimed only three medals — one silver and two bronze — in 10 appearances at the Olympics. Saudi Arabian women were first allowed to compete at the Games at London 2012 following pressure from the International Olympic Committee.
Abuljadayel said: “Gold is not impossible. We’ve seen many countries winning gold. But in order to win gold, you need to go the extra mile.
“It’s (about) hard work, dedication and patience for years. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Eventually if you really want to be the best in the world, of course you can be the best in the world. I live in a society right now that provides other Saudi girls with these kinds of opportunities.
“It’s up to them to take them and take (sport) to the next level.”
Abuljadayel lamented the fact she was denied such opportunities, and described being unable to attend sports events in her homeland as “a huge miss.”
Yet even so, the 24-year-old would not be deterred from pursuing her passion for sport.
“Along with my friends I was part of a football team and we organized matches in our school in Riyadh. All proceeds from the matches went to the workers in our school,” she said.
Abuljadayel never dreamed of participating in the Olympics. But then came the watershed moment in the summer of 2012 when the ban on Saudi Arabian women taking part was lifted, shortly before the London Games and 800 meter runner Attar joined judo player Wojdan Shaherkani to make history.
Attar provided one of the stand-out images of the those Olympics when, resplendent in a white hijab and vibrant green, long-sleeved jacket, she became the first woman from the Kingdom to compete at the Games. The then 19-year-old received a standing ovation and worldwide acclaim for her landmark achievement, despite finishing last in her qualifying heat by some distance.
Abuljadayel was so inspired that she joined the track team of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where she studied architecture. Just four years later she was one of four females competing for Saudi Arabia at the Rio Olympics.
She finished seventh in her 100 meter heat, but she was also widely lauded for her pioneering feat.
Now Abuljadayel hopes to enhance her reputation by qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And, if she does, she will not just be content to take part like she did when she was in Rio.
Abuljadayel, who just months before her Olympic debut set a national record in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, said: “It was a milestone that I reached Rio, but I feel like it’s just the beginning of the road. It gave me experience to prepare me for the next step. For me, that’s qualifying for the upcoming rounds. That’s definitely my goal.
“If I go to the next Olympics, I will definitely know what to expect and how to react and the amount of work to put in.”
Before then, however, she has her work cut out adapting to a change of discipline after switching from the 100 meters to the 400 meters. Her coach felt that the statuesque six-footer’s stride pattern would better suit longer distances.
The doughty Abuljadayel seems equipped for any challenge she faces on and off the track, though, including that of being a role model in her homeland and the Middle East in general. Eloquent and animated, she has also excelled academically, becoming an
accredited architect, after being awarded her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I feel like my experience can help motivate others. Before me there was no one. No one had run the 100 meters,” she said.
“So, if a girl thought: ‘I want to run the 100 meters’ before I did it in Rio, she would think: ‘But no one did it before, why would I?’. But after I ran the race, she would think: ‘Oh, she did it, so can I.’ That’s actually great. I hope I can be a role model.
“But that’s up to people, not me. What I can deliver is results and hope those results inspire people. If it’s in Saudi Arabia, great. If it’s outside of (the country) even better.
“At the end of the day, I am a proud Saudi citizen and I hope my community is proud of me.”
Abuljadayel, who has trained in the US and Berlin, said that her own role model is someone outside of sport — her mother Suraya.
Of her galvanizing impact, she said: “She’s the one that I go to, she’s the one I call. She’s a huge factor in my success. She was there in Rio, at the World (Indoors) Championships and all my competitions. Having this unconditional support for me means the world.”
Abuljadayel, who is currently taking a break from training, enjoyed watching the Green Falcons play at the recent World Cup. She even traveled to Switzerland last month to attend the inaugural Julius Baer Zurich E-Prix, the penultimate race of the 2017/18 all-electric ABB FIA Formula E Championship season, describing it as “inspiring” and “a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Her visit was also symbolic because the championship — which was launched in 2014 — will make its Middle East debut in Riyadh on Dec. 15, the 10-team discipline’s 2018/19 season-opener.
Abuljadayel is “really excited” about the race, particularly because it is set to include activities for women just months after they were first allowed behind the wheel in the country.
“I feel it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to inspire the millennials and other people in Riyadh to witness such a new and innovative sport that can give you entertainment but with sustainable solutions,” she said.
“The Riyadh race agreement is for 10 years, so this will really accelerate the development of the sport in the Kingdom. It’s held in cities like New York, Berlin and Shanghai and the advent of hosting this in Riyadh opens up lots of opportunities for driving enthusiasts in the country, including women.”


SARAH ATTAR: Attar was the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympics. She came last in her 800 meter heat in London but won the hearts of fans around the world. The photo of her crossing the finish line in 2012 is one of the truly iconic sporting images of the past decade. She followed up her London run by moving up to the marathon in Rio four years later. 

WOJDAN SHAHERKANI: Shaherkani took up judo thanks to her father being a judo referee. It was a decision she would not regret as she became the second woman from Saudi Arabia to take part at the Olympics. The 22-year-old was a blue belt when she competed in the London Games and she said: “In the future we will and I will be a star for women’s participation.”

ASEEL AL-HAMAD: Al-Hamad is the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation and is also on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. She drove a lap of the French Grand Prix’s Le Castellet circuit in a Formula One car on the day the ban on women driving on the Kingdom’s roads was lifted. “Today is the birth of women in motorsport,” she said. 


Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 11 December 2018

Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

  • Tournament gets under way on Wednesday when Al-Ain take on Team Wellington at home.
  • UAE midfielder sure his side can cause a few shocks.

LONDON: While he is only too aware of the quality opposition they have to face, Al-Ain midfielder Ahmed Barman is backing “The Boss” to scare a few teams in the FIFA Club World Cup.
The tournament gets under way when the UAE outfit face Team Wellington on their home ground in the opener today. Last year saw fellow Arabian Gulf League side Al-Jazira reach the semifinal where they gave Real Madrid a huge fright before narrowly losing 2-1. And inspired by that march to the last four, Barman is looking for Al-Ain to go one better and become the first Emirati side to make the final.
“The FIFA Club World Cup is a global competition coveted by every club,” Barman said. “Al-Ahli, Al-Jazira and Al-Wahda participated in this tournament before and did their part, putting the UAE on the world map. We at Al-Ain hope to reach the semi-final, as Al-Jazira did, or do even better.”
Before any tournament it is only natural to dream of glory and lifting the trophy in front of adoring fans. But the midfielder is not getting too cocky, revealing that despite having home advantage Al-Ain are taking absolutely nothing for granted, starting with Wednesday’s clash against the Kiwis.
“There’s no doubt that we’re aiming to reach the final and face a giant like Real Madrid, but first we have to focus on our opening match against Team Wellington,” the 24-year-old said.
“We need to win to progress from this round and play the subsequent games until we reach the final against Real Madrid and show a standard of play the UAE can be proud of.”
Barman is not anticipating an easy opener.
“Team Wellington are a very good team with considerable ability. They won their local league and the OFC Champions League, which proves they’re powerful.
“So, all our focus is on this opening match. We’re annualizing our opponents to understand their capabilities as we prepare to perform well on the pitch and get positive result.”
The UAE champions did not have the best preparation for their stab at Club World Cup glory, losing 5-2 to Al-Wasl in the UAE President’s Cup at the weekend.
That result, while clearly not ideal, has not bothered the side’s coach.
“We cannot win every game, what is gone is gone, it’s full concentration on the match ahead,” Zoran Mamic said.
“There are no rules that Al-Ain cannot lose games, that’s why I don’t make any drama.”
But while Barman was keen to invoke the memory of Al-Jazira’s march to the last four, his boss was less so, telling his team to focus on the match at hand before getting ahead of themselves.
“We are not here to talk about last year, just as we are not here to talk about the future,” the Croatian said. “We are here to represent the club in the best possible way. We focus on the match at hand and everything will take care of itself.”
Of today’s opponents he added: “We have watched all their games, we know their strengths and where they are not so strong. They are particularly good offensively, they play with fast wingers and a striker who is a good scorer, they play a system that is unusual to us because no teams in the Emirates play with three in the last line. If we do our job we will (have) a good match.”