The 10:33 a.m. elimination match in women’s judo, 172-pound-plus category, was unremarkable, just another quick bout on the assembly line of judo matches that took place throughout Friday morning. That is, it was unremarkable, athletically speaking.
Historically, politically and socially speaking, it was another thing altogether.
“In white,” the announcer declared, as the two judokas walked into the arena, “the first woman ever from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkani.”
It did not take long for Shaherkani, a 16-year-old from Mecca, to become the first woman to compete at the Olympics for Saudi Arabia. One minute 22 seconds into the match, Shaherkani’s opponent, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican named Melissa Mojica, ranked 13th in the world, cleanly executed a technique called a side-drop, in which she dropped to the floor and pulled Shaherkani down over her leg. When Shaherkani hit the mat, it was registered as an ippon, judo’s equivalent of a knockout.