Dakar Rally’s only female winner excited to teach Saudi girls

Jutta Kleinschmidt is the only female winner in the 42-year history of the Dakar Rally. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 16 January 2020

Dakar Rally’s only female winner excited to teach Saudi girls

  • The former off-road racer told Arab News that she is excited to come back next year

JEDDAH: Jutta Kleinschmidt, one in a line of unsung heroes helping run Saudi Arabia Dakar 2020, is looking forward to returning to the Kingdom for the 2021 race.

Nicknamed “Miss Dakar” after becoming the rally’s only female winner in 2001, the Cologne-born veteran of the bike and car categories has been part of the famous endurance race for over three decades and on three continents.

The former off-road racer told Arab News that she is excited to come back next year. “I spoke to Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal (president of the Saudi Automotive and Motorcycle Federation), and he told me that he wants to do something for women, especially with regards to racing in the Dakar Rally,” Kleinschmidt said.

“I also know that Dakar is starting an academy here, and with the prince’s help, we’re looking into the possibility of starting a class for women to teach them racing. I’m very happy to be one of the instructors.”

Having performed in the Dakar Rally in Africa, South America and now in Saudi Arabia, Kleinschmidt said: “I was quite surprised by the beautiful nature when I came to Saudi Arabia. This country has so many different landscapes. That it’s possible to find everything in one country was very surprising.”

Kleinschmidt added that her experience with the local culture also proved positive. “I didn’t feel during the event that I had to behave any differently. You always respect the culture of the country you’re in, but I had no trouble whatsoever doing what I do anywhere else,” she said.

Of her milestone victory in 2001 and its impact on motorsport in terms of gender equality, Kleinschmidt said: “It shows that women can achieve everything. I loved this sport and wanted to compete, and I never thought about my gender in that process. I was simply a competitor against others, and I wanted to win. I felt that there was no reason I could not achieve that.”

She added: “This is important because of the predominant belief that women aren’t as good as men because of the difference in physical strength, but excelling in motorsport involves many other skills, and it’s not as important to be muscular. This is one of the things I like about motorsport; it’s one of the very few sports that are mixed.”

When asked about returning to Saudi Arabia for Dakar 2021, Kleinschmidt said: “Definitely. There’s no question about that.”

Lin Dan retirement ends era of ‘Chinese sports superstar’

Updated 08 July 2020

Lin Dan retirement ends era of ‘Chinese sports superstar’

  • The era of the superstar that once belonged to Chinese sports has faded

SHANGHAI: The retirement of two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan signals the end of a golden era of Chinese sporting superstars, state media said on Tuesday.

Arguably the greatest badminton player of all time, the 36-year-old said on Saturday that he was bringing the curtain down on a career that also brought five world titles.

NBA All-Star Yao Ming, Olympic gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang and two-time tennis Grand Slam champion Li Na have all retired in the last decade.

“With the ‘Super Dan’ curtain call, people cannot help but sigh,” Xinhua news agency said.

“The era of the superstar that once belonged to Chinese sports has faded.

“When will the next Lin Dan appear? Or when will the next Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Li Na appear?

“Where is the next Chinese sports superstar who will create a collective memory for us?”

The quartet were not just world leaders in their sport and popular in China, but also had “considerable influence in the international arena and became a window for the world to understand China,” Xinhua said.

Of prominent Chinese athletes left, women’s volleyball player Zhu Ting has the potential to rise to superstar level, Xinhua said, while disgraced swimmer Sun Yang “enjoys high popularity (in China), but unfortunately he is banned.” 

The 28-year-old is appealing against an 8-year ban for refusing to give a doping sample. The three-time Olympic freestyle champion’s career will effectively be over if he loses his appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

China has world champions in other sports, and finished third behind the US and Britain in the medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics, but they are not generally well-known even inside the country, Xinhua said.

Table tennis player Zhang Jike, another three-time Olympic gold medalist, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Lin, said the Oriental Sports Daily.

But at 32 his best days are behind him and as far back as 2016 he signaled his intention to retire, before having a change of heart.

“When will the next Lin Dan and China’s next sports superstar appear again?” asked the newspaper.

“This question may not be answered in a short space of time.”