Boulmerka, Hassiba (1968—)

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Boulmerka, Hassiba (1968—)

Algerian runner. Born on July 10, 1968, in Algeria; grew up in Constantine, 350 miles east of Algiers.

Won the 800-meter and 1,500 meter races at the African Games (1988); won the world championship in the 1,500 meters (1991 and 1995); won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,500 meters in Barcelona, Spain (1992).

Hassiba Boulmerka started off by winning a foot race. Despite death threats from Islamic fundamentalists for immodestly showing her bare legs, she kept on running, and her parents supported her as she trained four to eight hours a day. In 1988, she won the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races at the African Games. That same year, she represented Algeria at the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. For this, she was spat on, stoned, and denounced by religious leaders and had to practice in hiding.

But there were those in her country of Algeria who were ecstatic when she won the gold medal in the 1,500 meters in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, arriving at the finish line with a time of 3:55.30. In August 1995, Boulmerka won the world championship in the same event. "Her mere decision to run is courageous," said track commentator Craig Masback. At the close of the 20th century, several Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Kuwait, continue to ban women from the Olympics. In Tokyo in 1991, when Boulmerka won the 1,500 meters and became the first female world champion in Algeria's history, she grabbed her hair and howled. "I was screaming for Algeria's pride and Algeria's history," she said. "I screamed finally for every Algerian woman, every Arabic woman." Boulmerka was awarded the Medal of Merit, one of Algeria's highest honors.