On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying the Saudi Arabian flag during the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony.
For the 23-year-old, like the rest of the 33-person Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and vast team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and soccer. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has seen unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to the Vision 2030 of the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman).
“Athletics held a particularly exceptional place in my heart. It was the running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling made me come back for more. It was a feeling of being empowered, strong and confident.
“What also got me hooked was that the challenge was mine,” she said. “As an individual sport I like that you take advantage of it. It all depends on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the reward for it and love that feeling. “
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she started training, accessing running facilities was a bit difficult, especially for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investments in all sports in Saudi Arabia, including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more athletes than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support given to me by so many people, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Sports Ministry, the ‘Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.
At a time when female participation was still several years away from mainstreaming and becoming culturally more acceptable across the Kingdom, she was fortunate to have a family that undoubtedly believed in her.
“My family was and still is my biggest support and always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt skeptical or scared, they were the ones who helped me get over it. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympic athlete could one day come true. I am so proud and humbled too, that the dream is coming true now. “
When the rationale for his career path came, it couldn’t have come from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As cliché as it sounds, it really helped me overcome a lot of obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. One of my biggest idols, who is now my trainer, Linford Christie, m ‘Said I had the ability to make it to the Olympics. Since then, I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am today, but that’s just the start. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. I consider that the first step of a long journey to come, inchallah. “
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by American runner Allyson Felix, who has won 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those gold medals and three of those silver medals were won at the Olympics, making her the first female runner in history to win so many gold medals in track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance to break the world record of nine gold medals in athletics held by his legendary compatriot, sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother and founder of a brand that specializes in making products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to me and to many women around the world.
“I would hurt not to recognize our own athletes at home,” she added. “Among the runners, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, rider Dilma Malhas and swimmer Mariam Binladen.
Al-Dabbagh only got the call for the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Winning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and doing it through a” place of universality “, breaking the women’s national record in the 100m … I could not have asked for more,” he said. she declared. “This is the culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday was Olympics themed… that’s how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I’m so glad that moment has finally arrived.
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she’ll face some of the best runners in the world, but after last year’s disruption, it’s an experience she relishes.
“I know I am very inexperienced compared to my racing competitors, but I see that as a positive point,” he said. “I will inevitably learn so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to be 100% dedicated to training and competing, COVID hit, so I missed out on a lot of track time and plenty of chances to run. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has been through a difficult 18 months, and I can’t wait to see the sport bring people together from all walks of life, all over the world. I want to make sure that I savor this moment and that it will propel my athletic career forward. “
Al-Dabbagh does not set specific goals for himself at this point in his career, but milestones continue to occur.
“My goal is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I work hard every day to represent Saudi Arabia in the best possible way. I hope to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already a national record holder (100m) and would like to improve on that and come back as a better athlete. At this point in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a cornerstone for the future, both for me personally, but especially for the future of sport in the Kingdom.