Hassiba Boulmerka was the first woman from an Arab or African nation to win a world track championship, as well as the first Algerian to win an Olympic medal. Algeria’s best known female distance runner, Hassiba began running at a young age. Throughout the late 1980s she began making a name for herself on the international stage. It was during this time that conservative Islamic elements in Algeria condemned her and her role as a prominent female athlete. The continued harassment including death threats forced her to relocate her training to Europe. Despite this setback, she competed in the 1500 meter race in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. She won the race, earning Algeria its first gold medal. She continued her professional running career, participating in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. However, she sprained her ankle in the semi-finals and then retired from professional sports in 1997.
” I screamed for joy and for shock, and for much more. I was screaming for Algeria’s pride and Algeria’s history, and still more. I screamed finally for every Algerian woman, every Arabic woman.”
—Boulmerka on her win at the 1991 Tokyo world championships (Nancy Foley, “70. Hassiba Boulmerka, Track and Field” in Sports Illustrated for Women)
Hassiba has continued her work advocating on behalf of female athletes. She was elected a member of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and in 1999, she lobbied the group to put more pressure on governments that discriminate against female athletes.
for many women, hassiba boulmerka is one of the greatest bearers of hope for a modern algeria. today, she runs a pharmaceutical distribution and employs women who’re considered ‘failures’ in society: divorcees, outcasts and former athletes who couldn’t reach as far she did.
her story reminds me of the film by farida belyazid la porte sur le ciel : boulmerka would be nadia in the film, who founds a zawiya [halfway house] for dispossessed, abused, poor women, or any woman in fact who has no place to go, be or live.
here’s a film made in 1988 which still has reality in 2013 for some women!