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saudi-judokaKARACHI: It was over in little more than a minute, but it will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the London Games.

The first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympic Games took the stage on Friday wearing a tight-fitting black cap after officials would not allow her to don a headscarf.

Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani lost her heavyweight 78kg judo round to Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico in a bout that lasted just 82 seconds.

“Because of the all the crowd, and because this is the first time,” Shaherkani said through an interpreter. “Certainly being faced with such a large crowd is difficult, but manageable. I was a bit scared.”

Her compatriot Sarah Attar, an 800-metre runner who was grown up in California, will be competing next week. But it was Shaherkani who was first to break the barrier. The inclusion of Shaherkani and Attar, along with women athletes from Qatar and Brunei, marked the first time every country sent at least one woman to the Olympics.

Mojica said that fears of scarf being dangerous were overblown. “There was no problem at all with the hijab. I think everyone has a right to their religion and to be given an opportunity,” said Mojica. “This is no problem in judo.”

In many ways, however, the young Saudi's story is just beginning.

Back home, some experts have urged her not to risk her place in the afterlife for transitory fame on earth. Others have warned that she and her family could face ostracism when she goes home.

“She will definitely face difficulties (back home),” Hashem Abdo Hashem, Editor-in-Chief of Saudi's Arabic daily newspaper Okaz, told the media. “The society here will look at her negatively.”

On the other hand many sections of the society had demonstrated a positive reaction towards her participation, “We are proud of her participation which we believe will open the doors for greater presence of Saudi women in international sports,” said Saudi sports journalist Amal Ismael.

Lina al-Maena, who coaches Jeddah United, a female basketball club in the Red Sea city, said “the fight was very quick and short, but what counts is the participation. We weren't expecting great results as she didn't get much training.”

“Wojdan was also under pressure following the long controversy over the veil. This affected her ability to remain focused,” said Maena. “However, her participation has paved the way for women to take part in the next Olympics.”

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