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Bahrain's Best, Burqah-Bikini and All

By August 20, 2008

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Sprinter Roqaya Al-Gassra
Despite a full-body suit she wears to comply with her Muslim faith and that almost certainly cost her a few fractions of a second in her sprint, Bahrain's Roqaya Al-Gassra won her 200m heat and, should she make it into the final, will be the first Arab woman to make it that far at the Olympics. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Who says Arab men can't run? Or Arab women, head-covered and suited from head to toe, can't win? On Tuesday at the Beijing Olympics, Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi (a 28-year-old native of Morocco) won the 1,500 in just 17/100th of a second ahead of Kenya's Kipruto Asbel Kiprop, claiming Bahrain's first Olympic medal ever and receiving the personal congratulations of Bahrain's king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The same day, the great Roqaya Al-Gassra wrote the introduction to what could be a historic chapter at these Olympics. She won her 200m heat in 22.76 seconds, making the final 16 along with the Jamaican and American favorites. If she makes it into the final, Al-Gassra will be the first Arab woman to do so in an Olympic sprinting event. She's managing the feat despite wearing, at her (and Bahrain's) insistence, what looks like a hood but is, in fact, a contraption Australians dubbed the "burqa-bikini," or "burkini" or sometimes "hijood" (from combining hijab and hood) after it made its appearance there as one way to enable women to enjoy the country's beaches and be lifeguards without running afoul of their religion's traditional strictures. It's a two-piece lycra suit that hugs the body without making it uncomfortable to swim or run.

But as the New Zealand Herald's Denis Edwards noted, it's difficult to imagine the suit not creating more resistance than absolutely necessary on the track, which puts al-Gassra at an immediate competitive disadvantage. "With the world record sitting at twenty-one seconds and change, anything not helping really doesn't help. This raises a question. If Al-Gassra, with her self-imposed disadvantage, can still win, does that make her the best woman athlete in the sprint events? My dollar says yes, it does."

See Also:

Rashid Ramzi
Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi winning the Men's 1500m Final and the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games--Bahrain's first-ever Olympic medal. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

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