An American women’s saber fencer will make history at this year’s 2016 Rio Games by becoming the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab, or Muslim headscarf, after earning a bronze medal at a qualifying event over the weekend.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a 30-year-old who now stands in second place on the U.S. fencing national team, mathematically locked down her spot on the Olympic team after earning a bronze medal at the Athens World Cup on Saturday. She will compete in this year’s Summer Olympics, which will begin in August.
“I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender,” said Muhammad, who was quoted by TeamUsa.org. “I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
Muhammad, who failed to quality for the 2012 Olympics due to a torn ligament, will compete in the Rio Olympics in both the individual and team events along with U.S. Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis.
Muhammad, a New Jersey native who began training at the age of 13, said she took up fencing because she liked it and because she “saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport.”
“I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber,” Muhammad told TeamUSA.org.
Last July, Muhammad spoke with Al Jazeera’s “The Stream,” saying that part of her motivation for wanting to compete at the highest level of the sport comes from wanting people to hold Muslims, women and minorities in high-esteem and wanting people to "not pigeon-hole us in these boxes and say ‘this is what you’re supposed to do.'"
"At any point I could have stopped fencing and said 'you know what these people are right, this isn’t something I should do' and I was blessed to have parents that encouraged me to be involved in sports and to try to fight those stereotypes," she told Al Jazeera.