DOHA (Reuters) - When Qatari hurdler Mariam Mamdouh Farid crossed the finish line more than 15 seconds after the winner in her heat, the sparse crowd at Khalifa International Stadium cheered as if she had put on a podium performance.
The 21-year-old finished last in a 400 metres hurdles heat in front of her home crowd with a personal best time of just under one minute 10 seconds, but her race was much more about breaking down barriers than leaping over them.
Competing in a black full-body leotard covering her from head to toe under a national team singlet, Farid is one of two female athletes from Qatar taking part in the world athletics championships for the first time.
“My goal is inspiring the younger generation, breaking down barriers, making people’s perception of how women are in the Middle East,” she said.
“We are not oppressed. I can still compete with my scarf on. If there is something I want to do, I will do it.”
Farid took up athletics as a 15-year-old, having dabbled in a number of sports at her school in Doha.
“I used to be the strong girl in school playing football with guys and beating them at the break,” she said.
Now on the global stage, Farid, a communications student at the Doha campus of Northwestern University, could not help but be a little starstruck by the hurdlers in other lanes.
“I used to see Sydney (McLaughlin) the American champion on Instagram and now she’s competing with me,” she said. “I felt special.”
Making history at the world championships in Doha is not a big enough dream for Farid. She aims to one day win a medal at a major event.
“My dreams are very big,” she said. “It’s not just competing at the world championships but taking medals.”
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Clare Fallon