Sarah Attar

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Sarah Attar
Sarah Attar Rio2016.jpg
Attar at the 2016 Olympics
Personal information
Nationality United States-Saudi Arabia
Born (1992-08-27) August 27, 1992 (age 24)
Escondido, California, United States
Residence Mammoth Lakes, California
Height 165 cm (5 ft 5 in)[1]
Weight 52 kg (115 lb)
Country  Saudi Arabia
Sport Athletics
Event(s) 800 metres and marathon
College team Pepperdine University
Club Mammoth Track Club[2]
Coached by Andrew Kastor[2][3]
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)
  • 800 m – 2:44.95 (2012)
  • 3000 m – 11:27.30 (2013)
  • Marathon – 3:16:11 (2016)[4]

Sarah Attar (Arabic: سارة عطار‎‎; born August 27, 1992), is an American-born track and field athlete who competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics as one of the first two female Olympians representing Saudi Arabia. She also competed in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics.

Attar has lived in the United States her entire life, but has dual US-Saudi citizenship by virtue of the fact that her father was born in Saudi Arabia.[5][3] She was invited to participate in the Olympics despite her not having met the standard Olympic qualifying times, which were waived by the International Olympic Committee.[5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Attar was born and raised in Escondido, California, close to San Diego.[7][8][5][3] Her mother, Judy, is an American national hailing from California, and her father, Amer, is a Saudi Arabian national who went to college in the United States and married her mother in 1984.[9][10][11][12] She has dual US-Saudi citizenship because her father was born in Saudi Arabia.[5]

She graduated from Escondido High School, in Escondido, in 2010.[7] She competed for the school in cross country running.[13]

She then attended Pepperdine University, a Christian university in Los Angeles County, California, near Malibu, where she earned a B.A. in studio arts, having won the Rex Hamilton Memorial Art Scholarship.[14][8][7][15] Attar was one of two athletes from Pepperdine to be selected to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics, along with Roxanne Barker, who was on the South African team.[11] She ran in two college meets for Pepperdine in March 2012, finishing 12th in a 1,500-meter heat in the Cal State Fullerton Ben Brown Invitational in 5:30.51, and 29th in the 3,000 meters in the Spring Break Invitational in 11:37.41.[16]

After graduating from Pepperdine in 2014, she became a landscape photographer.[5][17] In 2015 she moved to Mammoth Lakes, California, to train full-time with distance runners including Olympian Deena Kastor, the wife of her coach Andrew Kastor.[5][17]

She has lived in the United States her entire life, and though she does not speak Arabic she travels to Saudi Arabia about once a year to visit relatives.[5][3][14]

Running career[edit]

Representing Saudi Arabia[edit]

Attar was named one of the first two women to compete for Saudi Arabia in the Olympics, on their Olympic team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. The other woman representing Saudi Arabia was judoka Wojdan Shaherkani.[18]

Prior to June 2012, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee had banned the Kingdom's females from competing at the Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had threatened to ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympic Games unless it allowed its women to compete.[19][20] The IOC decided that Saudi Arabia's female competitors did not have to meet Olympic qualifying standards.[5]

Attar was expected by Saudi Arabia to wear running outfits that complied with Islamic law.[21] Photographs of her in her typical clothing, wearing a tank top, shorts, and with her hair not covered by a head scarf, were deleted from the internet, including from her university's track and cross country website.[5][22] She and her mother put together a head-and-neck covering for her to compete in, along with long sleeves and long pants.[5] Attar lives and trains in the United States, without wearing a hijab or abaya covering her.[5]

Attar said: "Hopefully this can make such a huge difference."[23] Saudi Arabian scholar Ali Al-Ahmed, who has published studies on women’s sports in Saudi Arabia, opined: "The presence of female athletes [in the 2012 Olympics] made things worse, because it allowed Saudi Arabia to escape criticism."[5][24] On the other hand, conservative Saudi religious clerics strongly opposed and issued rulings against Saudi women participating in spectator sports, maintaining that it may lead to corrupt morals, loss of virginity, and lesbianism.[25]

2012 Olympic Games[edit]

During the Opening Ceremonies' Parade of Nations, Attar and Shaherkani, the only two females in the Saudi Arabian delegation, were forced to walk behind their male teammates, unlike women in delegations from other Islamic nations.[26][27]

Attar competed in the women's 800 metres, without having met the Olympic qualifying time.[28][29] She had competed at the distance only once, during high school, but not since she had attended college.[28][30] She said: "The 800 was a good option because I wouldn’t be out there getting lapped in the 5,000 or something."[17]

Attar competed in Heat 6 of the women's 800m qualifying heats on August 8, 2012. She finished last, with a time of 2:44.95, far behind Janeth Jepkosgei's heat-winning 2:01.04.[31][32] She finished more than half a minute slower than her nearest competitor, who crossed the finish line 150 meters ahead of her.[3][33] Hundreds of spectators stood and applauded Attar as she crossed the finish line.[34] Olympic TV coverage of her finish.

Her participation in the Olympics was mentioned by only one Saudi Arabian paper, which was criticized for doing so.[24]

2016 Olympic Games[edit]

Attar will compete for Saudi Arabia in the 2016 Olympic Games in the marathon.[5] She again received a wild card entry, in which she did not have to meet the standard Olympic qualifying time.[5] Her best marathon time was 3:11:27 at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, 26 minutes slower than the Olympic qualifying time.[5][3] The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee website did not name her or the other women who will represent the Kingdom.[35]

She ran fully covered, wearing long sleeves and long pants as she had in 2012, but this time wearing a baseball cap instead of a hijab.[17][36] She completed the marathon in 132nd place out of 133 women who finished, in a time of 3:16:11, which was 52 minutes behind the Kenyan winner Jemima Sumgong.[37][36]


Attar is sponsored by Oiselle, an American running apparel company that promotes and supports female athletes, as of April 2015.[38][39][40]


  1. ^ Sarah Attar.
  2. ^ a b Sarah Attar.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Culpepper, Chuck (August 1, 2016). "Sarah Attar, who made history in London, plans to go long in Rio". Washington Post – via 
  4. ^ ": Sarah Attar". IAAF. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Barker, Sarah. "The Complicated Story Of American Olympians And The Hijab". 
  6. ^ "Forbes India Magazine – The Games are a reminder of a fractious world and of how amity is possible". Forbes India. 
  7. ^ a b c "Sarah Attar". Pepperdine Sports. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Pilon, Mary (July 13, 2012). "Saudi Arabian Trailblazer, by Way of United States". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Sarah Attar". Salon. August 9, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  10. ^ Claverie, Aaron (July 12, 2012). "Pepperdine track athlete making Olympics history for Saudi Arabia". North County Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "Pepperdine's Attar to Make History Running for Saudi Arabia at Olympics". Pepperdine Sports. July 12, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  12. ^ Culpepper, Chuck (July 11, 2016). "In conservative Saudi Arabia, 2012 Olympian Sarah Attar sees rumblings of change". Washington Post. 
  13. ^ "Sarah Attar – Cross Country Athlete Profile". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b "Escondido's Sarah Attar headed to Olympics again". San Diego Tribune. 
  15. ^ "Among Chicago Marathon runners, a history-making woman". Chicago Trubine. 
  16. ^ "Escondido Woman Set To Run For Saudi Arabia In Olympics". August 7, 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Two Female Runners to Compete in the Olympics for Saudi Arabia". Runners World. July 29, 2016. 
  18. ^ "Saudi Arabia will send 4 women to compete in Rio Olympics". July 17, 2016. 
  19. ^ Gardner, Frank (June 24, 2012). "London 2012 Olympics: Saudis allow women to compete". BBC News. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  20. ^ Al Nafjan, Emma (July 13, 2012). "London 2012: don't forget that most Saudi women are banned from sport". The Guardian. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  21. ^ Blake, Matt (July 12, 2012). "Saudi Arabia finally allows TWO female athletes to compete in London 2012 for first time in Olympic history". Daily Mail. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Saudi Arabian Trailblazer, by Way of United States". The New York Times. July 14, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Standing ovation for hijab-wearing Saudi woman athlete as she finishes Olympic 800m heat almost a whole lap behind fellow competitors". Daily Mail. 
  24. ^ a b Case-Levine, Julia. "Saudi Arabia lets women compete in the Olympics, but bans them from playing sports back home". 
  25. ^ Bakis, J. Karakoç; Karakoç, Jülide (March 17, 2015). "Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Before and After the Arab Uprisings". Springer – via Google Books. 
  26. ^ "For Saudi Judo Player, a Quick Loss But a Barrier Broken". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  27. ^ "First Saudi Female Olympian Finishes Last". Retrieved August 10, 2012. 
  28. ^ a b Zeigler, Mark (July 12, 2012). "Escondido woman to make Olympic history". UT San Diego. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  29. ^ "London 2012 Olympics: Saudi Arabian women to compete". BBC News. July 12, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Q&A with Sarah Attar -". July 28, 2015. 
  31. ^ "Escondido Athlete Makes Olympic History". NBC San Diego. 
  32. ^ "Athletics at the 2012 London Summer Games: Women's 800 metres Round One - Olympics at". 
  33. ^ Press, Associated (August 8, 2012). "Sarah Attar is first Saudi Arabian woman in Olympic track and field". The Guardian. 
  34. ^ "Sarah Attar is first Saudi Arabian woman in Olympic track and field". The Guardian. August 8, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Saudi sportswoman Sarah Attar breaks gender barriers in Rio marathon". Hindustani Times. August 2, 2016. 
  36. ^ a b "Female marathon runners at Rio Olympics inspiring in their own ways – Toronto Star". The Star. August 14, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Olympics-Athletics-Women's marathon results". Daily Mail. Retrieved August 20, 2016. 
  38. ^ "Olympian Sarah Attar Joins Oiselle – and Tells Her Story". Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  39. ^ "New to Oiselle team". Twitter. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  40. ^ "Is Exclusion Still the Norm? Saudi Arabia and Women in the Olympic Games – Law Street (TM)". May 27, 2016. 

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