Weightlifter's appearance at Olympics will be significant moment for women's sport in UAE

The governing body for weightlifting believe they have already achieved the equivalent of Olympic gold by providing the first Emirati female to qualify to compete at the Games.

Khadija Mohammed will compete in the 75-kg category at the Olympics. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
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DUBAI // The governing body for weightlifting in this country believe they have already achieved the equivalent of Olympic gold by providing the first Emirati female to qualify to compete at the Games.

Khadija Mohammed, a 17-year -old schoolgirl from Dubai, will represent the UAE in the 75kg category of the weightlifting competition at London 2012.

Given her relative inexperience she has modest aspirations for the competition, but the sport's bosses insist her appearance in the UK marks a significant moment for women's sport in this country.

"For the UAE to have a female weightlifting team qualified for the Olympics is like we have won a gold medal already," said Sultan bin Mejren, the president of the Emirates Weightlifting Federation.

"The weightlifting sport for women here is only three years old. For us to achieve Olympic qualification in that small period, by itself is an achievement."

The UAE were granted one place at the Games on the strength of the women's team's performance at the Asian championships in South Korea earlier this year.

Mohammed was picked as the lone representative from a choice of six female weightlifters, and was informed of the decision on her birthday, just as she was leaving an end-of-term exam.

She has become a minor celebrity in the month since. At yesterday's press conference before her departure to the UK, she was forced to step on to a set of scales, in the sort of weigh-in which is more usually associated with fighters before a boxing match.

She is looking forward to becoming the latest female Olympian for this country, after Sheikha Latifa bint Ahmed and Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed competed on wild cards four years ago.

"I am looking forward to raising the flag of my country, and other than that I just want to perform well at the competition," Mohammed said.

The feats of the UAE's female weightlifters are all the more notable because of their youth and inexperience, according to Bin Mejren.

The squad of lifters they sent to South Korea were all between 14 and 20 years old, and so the future is bright, the president of the governing body said.

"We couldn't believe it, and neither could the sport's authorities, that we could take this opportunity to qualify [with such a young team]," Bin Mejren said.

"If we have athletes appearing in internationals at 14 years old, and they were in very great shape, it surprises a lot of countries who have more than a few decades in this sport.

"We have young athletes who proudly participate. One of our team [Abeer Al Faraj] was competing after just one month of training. It brought a lot of attention to us."

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