Being a woman, an athlete and a Muslim is not easy in 2017, but in 1992 it was an odyssey, and the Algerian Hassiba Boulmerka can attest to it. She arrived in Barcelona as the favorite to take gold in the 1,500m, the title of world distance champion in her pocket and a handful of death threats behind their backs. Because? For running in shorts and suspenderslike any other athlete in any other country.
Not so in Algeria, where Boulmerka had been suffering for some time under pressure from the most radical organizations of Muslim fundamentalism, especially from Algerian Armed Islamic Group. “The imam of Algiers said in 1991 that I was anti-Islamist,” Boulmerka would say years later. The threats they put their lives at riskand the middle distance runner was forced to apply for a permanent visa to reside abroad and safely prepare the Olympic Games.
Already in the city of Barcelona, Boulmerka gave an exhibition on tartan of Montjuic and masterfully beat the Russian Lyudmila Rogacheva in the 1,500s. 200 meters from the finish line, the Algerian fiercely attacked her rival, who could not respond to the change of pace. She finished the race with a mark of 3:55.30, she became the fifth fastest woman in history in that event (she is now fourteenth), and she celebrated by pointing angrily at her shirt. “I shouted for the pride and history of Algeria, for every Algerian woman and every Arab woman,” she would say about the first Olympic gold won by her country.
The return to Algeria was not a bed of roses, far from it, and in the midst of a civil war in which his life was once again in danger, the ‘Constantine Gazelle’ went into temporary exile in Cuba. Twenty-five years after Boulmerka’s gold, the athletes of the Maghreb country They compete freely in shorts and suspenders. That was his great victory.