From the sand dunes of the Rub al Khali desert to the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites in northern Italy, Emirati teen Zahra Lari made figure skating history this week. The 17-year-old not only became the first figure skater from the Gulf to compete in an international competition but the first to do so wearing a headbag (or hijab), an Islamic headscarf.
(She should enter the men’s figure skating competition as she looks just like them)
AFP “In my country women don’t do much sport and even less figure skating,” the quietly-spoken teenager told AFP after competing alongside skaters from 50 countries in the European Cup.
A practicing Muslim, her black headscarf and sober costume, stood out among the flashy orange tutus and fluorescent pink tights. “I skate with the hijab, my costume is in line with Islamic tradition,” she explained.
Lari’s American-born mother Roquiya Cochran admitted that it had taken some time to convince her husband to let their daughter compete. “I had to convince him. In the beginning he saw it as his daughter dancing in front of a male audience. “But she’s covered, she hasn’t done anything anti-Islamic.”
“Promising skaters usually start aged 3 or 4 years,” explains Romanian coach Noemi Bedo. “But she’s very talented, she’s very powerful and jumps higher than the others. I also believe in the Olympic Games,” added Bedo, of Lari’s dream of competing at the Winter Olympics.
The European Cup in Canazei does not have the stature of the ISU Grand Prix events and Lari did not compete at the world junior championships last February, but she nevertheless finished in the top 15.
Apart from wanting her own success, Lari added: “I want to encourage girls from the Emirates and the Gulf to achieve their dream too and not to let anyone tell them not to do sport, not only figure skating but all sports.”