There is true magic in the Olympic Games. For women, it was truly golden. And for one, Tahmina, who placed 31st in the 100m, we should award a lifetime gold medal.
For the first time in Olympic history EVERY country had at least one woman athlete on their team. Many had a woman in the Olympics for the first time.
Some of those women were from Muslim countries that not only had to overcome amazing, vehement resistance in their own countries from men who felt women should not be to participating in sports that men were watching. They also had to overcome the resistance of the Olympic committee to them wearing a hajib to cover their hair – the only way their religion would allow them to appear in public. It was wonderful to see them there, living out their own dreams – yes, women outside the Western world have Olympic-sized dreams too.
And, for the first time in history, more women won medals than men – woohoo!!!
The first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympics was Wojdan Shaherkani. Only 16 years old, and participating in Judo, wearing her hajib, she lost to a Puerto Rican woman. But it was a very profound first for her country. Her father cried like a baby, proudly watching his baby girl compete. After the fight she hugged her sobbing dad, “Daddy, I did this”. He cried even more. They cried together. Many in their country were angry that she was there, that they showed their tears to the world. But little girls everywhere saw another part of the wall separating them from their dreams begin to collapse.
There is the tale of two Ethiopian women. One, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana won in world record time running the Women’s Marathon in the rain. The other, Abeba Aregawi, competing in the 1500m, married for many years to a Swede, wanted to run for her adopted country. Ethiopia refused. As a woman, she was the property of the country of her birth, of course.
So, they cancelled her passport, called in her credit cards, then threatened her family still living in Ethiopia. She showed up in the green uniform of Ethiopia, the only way she could take part in the Olympics she had trained for, and dreamed of, most of her life. The hurt in her soul showed in her face. She ran poorly. Surprise.
Then there was Tahmina Kohistani, Afghanistan’s only woman at the games. She ran the 100m race, but she had run much longer, spending the last 8 years telling the men in her family, the men in her country, that a woman could run – had a right to run – in public. Her father and her coach had to fight repeatedly to defend her. She was thrown out of a taxi, told to “get behind the man,” that she was “a disgrace to Muslim women.” Still she ran. And ran in her hajib. She placed 31st. But she had run, for her country, for Muslim women everywhere, for her family. She had run for her own dreams.
When Tahmina was asked what she had done, she said, “One day my country will remember me. They will see I am the right one and other girls will watch me and I will tell them, ‘Come, run with me. Run with me, Tahmina.’ ”
Tamina gets the gold from me. And so does Abeba. And Wojdan. And the hundreds of other women who were there against amazing odds, and didn’t win a medal. While the crowds didn’t cheer for them, they deserve to be celebrated. Each and every one with her own story, her own obstacles, incredible sacrifices just to be there…we need to celebrate them today.
But the real victory is for little girls everywhere. In every country little girls can know that they have a right to dream. To achieve. That they don’t need a man’s permission to be, to become, the beautiful creatures they already are.
And for some, in countries where women are still not recognized as full human beings, they have these amazing examples, such beautiful people to look up to as brave role models. They can hear the clarion call of a true champion, Tahmina, as she calls to all little girls who dream, “Come, run with me. Run with me, Tahmina.”