Meet Sarah Attar - Saudi Arabia's First Female Track & Field Athlete

Pepperdine Runner, With 800 Best of 2:40 And A 3k Best of 11:37, Will Run 800 in London

By LetsRun.com
July 13, 2012

Press reports came out on Thursday indicating that Saudi Arabia is sending two female athletes to the Olympics. One of them was described as being an 800 runner named Sarah Attar, "who is only 17 19 and based in San Diego in California."

Once we read that, we started doing a little bit of research to see if we could get more info on her about her background and to see what type of runner she is.

Attar, the daughter of an American mother and Saudi father, was born and raised in the US and attended Escondido HS in California and now attends Pepperdine University where she has run for two years. Given the fact that she just finished her second year of college, we're a bit surprised media reports are saying she's just 17 as that seems unlikely (although not impossible). A friend of Attar's emailed us and said she is 19.

As for what type of person she is, Mark Zeigler of U-T San Diego wrote a nice profile on Attar on U-T San Diego website (and assumingly in the newspaper):

Escondido woman to make Olympic history


Sarah Attar

In the article, Escondido gets rave reviews as a great person:

    “If you want to talk about someone who can represent her country in the right manner and be a pioneer, Sarah is the perfect person for that,” said Steve Bridges, Escondido High’s athletic director and a longtime family friend. “She’s very good academically. She’s a hard worker and just a delight to be around. She will do herself proud.”

The IOC has uploaded video footage of Attar doing some drills and running on a track after which she gives an interview where she clearly recognizes the historic nature of her participation and what it may mean for future generations of women:

    "A big inspiration for participating in the 2012 Olympic for me is to be one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going. It's such a huge honor and I  hope that it can really make some good strides for women over there to get more involved in the sport.

    "I definitely think that my participation in these Olympic Games can increase women's participation in sports in general. I can only hope for the best for them in that we can really get some good strides going for women in the Olympic and in sports in general. To any women that want to participate, I say, 'Go for it and don't let anyone hold you back.'"

In the video footage, Attar is seen wearing the traditional Islamic attire for women but Zeigler's article indicated this isn't what Attar normally wears (the photos you see in this article are snapshots of the video footage):


    Sarah Attar

    Part of the compromise with the IOC requires the Saudi female athletes to wear a headscarf and loose-fitting garments covering their arms and legs, not Pepperdine’s blue tank top and white shorts that Attar wears at college meets.

    A July 2 story in Al Jazirah newspaper quoted Prince Nawaf bin Faisal outlining the conditions for female participation in London, saying they must “wear suitable clothing that complies with Sharia (Islamic law) … the athlete’s guardian agrees to attend with her … (and) there must be no mixing with men during the Games.”

    “The athlete and her guardian,” he is quoted, “must pledge not to break these conditions.”

    At the IOC’s request, Pepperdine officials removed Attar’s mug shot and action photos from the school’s athletic website – along with the names of her parents and siblings – and declined to make pictures of her available to the media, presumably because they do not show her in traditional Saudi dress.

Officials may have tried to erase all photos of Attar in shorts, but nothing in 2012 is seemingly truly erased once it's up on the Internet as google cache still has photos of Attar in shorts.

How Fast Is Attar?
As for what type of runner she is, the Pepperdine website says Attar had HS bests of: "5:50 in the 1600m, 12:20 in the 3200m and 2:40 in the 800m." Athletic.net lists some additional HS times for her as well. In college, Attar's personal bests are 5:30.51 for 1500 and 11:37.41 for 3000 (TFRRS.org bio with more times here). In a bit of irony,  Attar has never run the 800 in college which is the event she'll be running in London.

In cross country, Attar posted a 5k best of 20:16 as a freshman and 20:26 as a sophomore. She ran at the WCC championships this year where she placed 76th overall and 8th on the Pepperdine team in 25:02 for 6k, in a race that was won by San Francisco's Laura Surr in 20:02. Surr would go on to compete at NCAAs where she earned All-American honors (38th) and led San Francisco to a 25th -place showing. Loyola Marymount's Tara Erdmann who earned her 3rd straight West Coast Conference title with the victory. Erdmann went on to finish 10th at the NCAA Cross Country meet.

And while Attar was a complete unknown to most of the world, we must admit, she's received mention before on LetsRun.com:

MB: Attar's 1st Appearance on LetsRun.com In September of 2011 (She showed up in the Stanford cross country results as she was 260th out of 278 at the Stanford cross country meet this year).


More: Escondido woman to make Olympic history
MB Discussion: Meet Sarah Attar - Saudi Arabia's First Female Track & Field Athlete - PBs 2:40 (800), 5:30 (1500) and 11:37 (3k)
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