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.”
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