Los Angeles: Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who in 2016 became the first American to compete in a hijab at the Olympic Games, is stepping away from the sport. Muhammad, who won team sabre bronze at the Rio Games, told NBC Sports that a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca had been “transformational” for her, and helped her decide not to pursue a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“I have unofficially hung up my sabre. I feel really confident with my career and where I am right now in my life,” she said.
Ibtihaj was a trailblazer in Rio, qualifying six months before the Games opened and saying she aimed to explode stereotypes about Muslim women and give Muslim girls that they could get involved in sport.
She was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people and in 2017 a Barbie doll fashioned in her image was released.
In 2018 she released her memoir “Proud” and she has continued to speak out about attitudes toward Muslim women and the hijab, arguing that wearing the headscarf is a choice that Muslim women are entitled to make.
She said other athletes, including skier Lindsey Vonn and footballers Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy, had helped her reach her decision.
“It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” she said.