Looking ahead to London: Saudi women big everywhere but at home on 2 women making team
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The world heralded the news this past week that Saudi Arabia was sending women athletes to the Olympics for the first time. The world. But not Saudi Arabia itself, where there was not even a hint of the ground-breaking news in the country's official media.
The state-sponsored silent treatment was a lesson into the deep intricacies and sensitivities inside the kingdom as it took another measured step away from its ultraconservative traditions.
While Saudi rulers found room to accommodate the demands of the International Olympic Committee to include women athletes, they also clearly acknowledged that -- in their view at least -- this did not merit billing as a pivotal moment of reform in a nation that still bans women from driving or traveling without the approval of a male guardian.
This is not a Jackie Robinson moment. Even the two athletes selected to compete under the Saudi flag -- 800-meter runner Sarah Attar from Pepperdine University in California and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in judo -- live outside the kingdom and carry almost no influence as sports figures.
The Olympic Village residences, which are expected to accommodate 16,000 people, will open Monday. "Things are infinitely better today than they were when we last invited the world to London in 1948," Mayor Boris Johnson said at a news conference. "We didn't even have a village in 1948. They had to bring their own towels and they had to bunk up in school classrooms." One important thing may not be better, though. Each room contains two single beds. The beds, according to The Associated Press, are only 5 feet, 8 inches long. Consider: Usain Bolt is 6-5. Michael Phelps is 6-4. And let's not even imagine LeBron James or Kevin Durant trying to get a night's sleep on one of those beds.
Speaking of James, he added to his NBA title and regular-season MVP honors by taking home three individual trophies from the ESPY Awards Wednesday in Los Angeles. Among them was male athlete of the year.
As the venues come to life around London, it's worth noting that there is one that isn't new. In fact, it will be the same one used for its sport as back in 1908 when London hosted its first Games. It's no ordinary venue, though. It is the All England Club aka Wimbledon. It is the only venue this time around that was also used in 1908 (tennis wasn't an Olympic sport in 1948). Great Britain's Josiah Ritchie won men's gold that year and Dorthea Douglass Lambert Chambers, also of Britain, won women's gold.
This Olympics has given movie theaters around Britain cause to re-release an Oscar winner from years past. Opening Friday was "Chariots of Fire," the 1981 winner for best picture. The reality-based story centered on the struggles -- external and internal -- of two British sprinters going for gold in the 1924 Paris Games. Harold Abrahams was an English Jew who overcame the ingrained anti-Semitism of the British establishment, while Eric Liddell was a committed Scottish Christian forced to choose between his faith and his ambition when his race was on a Sunday.
First Published July 15, 2012 12:06 am