DOHA (Reuters) - Nada Arkaji hopes to be a trailblazer for Qatar’s forgotten sportswomen at the London Olympics this year even though the teenager’s medal prospects are almost non-existent.
The 17-year-old and sprinter Noor al-Malki will be the first women from Qatar to compete at an Olympics after the IOC handed out wildcards to the desert nation to send two female athletes to this year’s Games.
She will compete in the 50 metres freestyle at the London Aquatic Centre with the aim of breaking her personal best of 30 seconds — a time that won’t trouble the favourites who will be touching home around six seconds earlier.
The significance of her appearance in London cannot be measured by a stopwatch, however.
“Family, friends, coaches, my school - everyone is so supportive. I feel really honoured to be the first woman, and feel like everyone is encouraging me,” said Arkaji.
She took her first plunge into a pool aged four and spent her childhood competing for Doha club The Tidal Waves.
“After the games I hope to be able to encourage other women to pursue sports, especially swimming,” added Arkaji.
At least she has a little more preparation time for London having had just three weeks to get ready for the Arab Games hosted by Qatar in December.
She swims for two hours every day except Friday at Doha’s Aspire Zone training complex, ironing out her freestyle stroke.
“My dream is to be under 30 seconds. I really hope to beat it,” she told Reuters. “I feel like I swim the most smoothly through the pool (with freestyle).
“For the Arab Games, I swam all the strokes and distances, because I was the only one there (from Qatar) to do it. It was a lot of pressure, and I only had three weeks to prepare.”
Arkaji’s role in Qatari sport is not confined to the swimming pool as she is also a member of Doha’s 2020 bid committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
Qatar is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, along with Madrid, Tokyo, Istanbul and Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
It will be Doha’s second successive Olympic bid after the failure to make the cut for the 2016 Games. Baku also fell at the first hurdle for 2016.
As part of its bid Qatar plans to build a high-performance training centre for female athletes in Doha.
Reporting By Regan Doherty, Editing by Martyn Herman