Dalma Rushdi First Saudi Woman to Win an Olympic Medal

LONDON/SINGAPORE, Aug 25 (Arab News): Equestrienne Dalma Rushdi Malhas did Saudi Arabia proud after she won the bronze medal on her horse Flash Top Hat on Tuesday at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Eighteen-year-old Malhas overcame four penalty points in the first round of the three-day event to qualify for the jump-off session, where she delighted the crowd to claim the bronze medal in the individual show jumping event in equestrian.

According to the International Equestrian Federation, Malhas showed considerable improvement over the last week of riding and on Tuesday brought crowds to their feet after riding a faultless clear, with tight corners and a good burst of speed.

Malhas, who had no penalties in the second round, clocked 38.05 seconds during the jump-off at the Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre. Marcelo Chirico of Uruguay won the gold medal with his mount Links Hot Gossip and Colombian rider Mario Gamboa took the silver riding LH Tan.

In winning the bronze medal, Malhas was not only the first Saudi woman athlete to compete in the inaugural Games for the world's youth aged between 14 and 18, but also gave the Kingdom its second medal in an Olympic competition after Khalid Al-Eid in the 2000 Sydney Games, where he won the bronze in equestrian.

"What a day, it was a real high. I still can't believe I have this medal. It hasn't sunk in yet," Malhas was quoted as saying by States News Service.

The nine-member Saudi delegation to the Singapore Games includes seven track and field athletes, one swimmer and Malhas.

True to Saudi tradition, Malhas was accompanied to Singapore by her grandfather, Hamed Mutabagani, as her male guardian and she wore hijab outside the equestrian arena.

"I was really impressed, I've always had faith in her that she would become an Olympian medalist and I saw that when she entered the second qualifying round B and competed against five other equestrians to win the bronze," said Malhas' mother Arwa Mutabagani in an interview from Singapore.

"She entered in cold blood and was focused until she surpassed them and ended the race with no penalties at all, and faster than them all making it hard for anyone to compete with her. It wasn't luck, it was hard work,"

Mutabagani also said her daughter has had a bad experience with the horse she was assigned to compete with, but echoing the sentiments of many experts she said: "Dalma did a great job training with the horse in such a short period of time."

"She knows what she is doing. Since her graduation from high school, she has been training for a year and a half. Her medal shows it was not just a hobby, she took it seriously and with dedication and perseverance it paid off very well. Thank God!" added Mutabagani.

On Malhas' future plans, Mutabagani said: "We don't know yet how things will go. We prefer to take everything one step at a time. Now Dalma will start her bachelors in management and Oriental studies in London and who knows what happens from there."

Mutabagani is a member of the Saudi Equestrian Federation and distinguished herself as the first Saudi woman member of the national team in an international equestrian competition in Hong Kong.

Though this is the first time a Saudi woman athlete officially represented the Kingdom at an international competition, several women riders had been competing overseas since 2004 under the sponsorship of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Company.

Leading women riders who have carried the colors of Kingdom Holding Company include Alia Al-Huwaete, Nourah Al-Yousif, and Latifah Al-Shaikh, who all competed in several show jumping and endurance competitions in the Gulf.


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