Algerian Hassiba Boulmerka, Olympic victory in the face and beard of Islamists

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Algerian Hassiba Boulmerka crossed the finish line in the women's 1,500 meters on August 8, 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics.

The weather is fine, the feat being almost thirty, Hassiba Boulmerka has not forgotten anything of this Catalan day of August 8, 1992, when it allowed Algeria to join the club of countries having obtained at least once a Olympic gold medal. ” I remember everything, the way I managed my race ”, she explains twenty-nine years later, about the 1,500 meters are legendary.

episode 1 Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, barefoot marathoner and first black African Olympic champion

On July 10, 1992, in Barcelona, ​​the Constantinian just celebrated her 24th birthday. Crowned with a world champion title obtained a year earlier in Tokyo, Japan, over the 1,500 meters in 4’2”21, she knows she is capable of inscribing her name at the top of the Olympic list. ” Four years earlier, when I had just participated in the Seoul Olympics, I had figured out that gold in Barcelona would be for me. “

For four years, Hassiba Boulmerka, also a specialist in the 800 meters, piled up the titles and multiplied the races in view of his appointment with history. ” Several weeks before the Olympics, I was injured. Once recovered, I decided to only do internships, especially in Paris and Germany, and to train, often with boys, to increase the intensity.. “

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On D-Day, in the Catalan heat of the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, ​​the Algerian athlete is carried by an indescribable confidence. The qualifications are well negotiated, and Hassiba Boulmerka takes the start of the 1,500 meters final in the shoes of the favorite. But she is not the only one: the Russian Lyudmila Rogacheva and the Ukrainian Tatiana Dorovskikh, both representatives of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), or the Chinese Qu Yunzia, are also aiming for the top step of the podium.

I had decided that this would be my race, that I would be the queen that day, she remembers, laughing. Technically, I knew exactly what to do, I was in control of all my strides. And the scenario she had imagined unfolds without a hitch. Hassiba Boulmerka starts by staying behind and lets Rogacheva and Yunzia take the lead. ” At one point, I was even fourth.

A woman’s success

The Algerian is considered formidable in the last three hundred meters, a force which has already enabled her to win several races. This time again, at the best time, just before the final straight, she passed Yunzia, then second, then Rogacheva, who had done most of the race in the lead. Hassiba Boulmerka literally flies to victory, with a time of 3’55”30.

When I crossed the finish line, I first thought of Algeria, to whom I had just awarded their first Olympic gold medal, and I let out a cry of joy. I thought about all these moments of suffering, these training sessions under a blazing sun or under a freezing rain, and that all these sacrifices were worth it ”, she remembers today.

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In Algiers, Oran, Constantine or Bejaïa, the victory of the young runner provokes scenes of popular jubilation. The country, which is going through the first years of the terrible black decade, is enjoying a rare moment of joy. But the victory of Hassiba Boulmerka does not please everyone. Particularly to the most radical Islamists, who do not tolerate the success of a woman as a top athlete.

The threats that have weighed on her for several months become clearer after her Olympic coronation. The champion immediately understands that she has become a target. It is under police protection, and in an armored car, that she leaves the stadium, long after the other athletes.

I am a Muslim and a practitioner, but I did not want to wear the hijab, and the Islamists did not support it. But I fully assumed the fact of living as I understood it, and of not giving in to the pressure of the most extremists ”, she says. However, despite this certainty, “to 24 years old and when you are only a top athlete, you are not prepared for that, nor to live surrounded by bodyguards », She relates.

A few days after his Catalan triumph, Hassiba Boulmerka spends a few days in Algiers, to celebrate – under high security – his title. His goal is also to organize the evacuation to France of his father, who is seriously ill. For several years, she herself will be forced into exile, especially in Cuba, to escape a threat that has become too heavy.

Summary of our series “These Africans who made the Olympics”