Athletes save the Olympics from their leaders' big lies

Athletes save the Olympics from their leaders' big lies

Oh, how the International Olympic Committee must yearn for the good old days of 1999, when revelations of bribes for bid city votes led to the worst scandal in the hoary (or should that be whorey?) history of the IOC.

Because as bad as that was, 2016 was even worse.

That is a painful irony given that years with an Olympics usually leave enough good recollections to wipe the seamier ones from the public memory bank.

Not so in 2016, even if the underlying point of this column, as it has been in each of the 30 years for which I have given international sports awards, still is to celebrate the best athletes in sports for whom an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate prize.

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Even Losing Her Footing In Defeat, Fencer Muhammad Still Stands Tall

RIO DE JANEIRO – For Ibtihaj Muhammad, this was the long-awaited chapter in a lengthy narrative that had put her in a position of epic significance. It ended with her in an unremarkable position of discomfit, lying on a fencing strip at Carioca Arena 3 in the Olympic Park yet still standing for so much more.

It was just past noon on the third full day of the 2016 Olympics. A little more than an hour earlier, Muhammad had become the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in an Olympics. That historic moment had been subsumed in her mind by the need to focus on her first match, in the round of 32, which she won 15-13.
Now it was match point in the round of 16, and Muhammad had lost her footing. She remained on her backside for the minute of official review before the referee awarded what would be the final point of a 15-12 score to her opponent, Cecilia Berder of France.
Down. And quickly out of the tournament for the Olympic saber title, an outcome not unexpected among fencing cognoscenti but unwanted for those who hoped for more exposure of the symbol Muhammad had become.
“I wouldn’t say I felt down and out,” Muhammad said. “At the end of the day, I realized that this moment of me in sport and representing my country and the Muslim community is bigger than myself.”


Ibtihaj Muhammad’s Olympic Qualification A Ray Of Hope For Muslim-American Women

Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team U.S. Media Summit on March 9, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team U.S. Media Summit on March 9, 2016 in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES - Ibtihaj Muhammad was not making a fashion statement. What she wore at the Team USA Media Summit last month in Los Angeles spoke of something much more significant.

She was dressed in blue jeans, a white jacket with a red U.S. Olympic team logo and a charcoal scarf covering her head, ears and neck, lining the oval of her copper-colored face.

It was the scarf that had drawn all the attention. There is an irony in having that dark, monochrome scarf be the attraction, given that Muhammad has such a sense of style she has launched a clothing line full of distinctive apparel in bright colors and intricate patterns.

The scarf, known now as hijab although referred to in the Quran as khimar, is plenty eye-catching in one of Muhammad’s worlds, the world of Olympic sports, where few wear it.

For Muhammad and many Muslim women, hijab is a symbol of both their identity and their spiritual connection to God. And she is soon to be the first U.S. athlete who competes in hijab at the Olympics.