Be it a wheelchair-bound archer leading her country’s contingent, or one who stood out by dying her tresses in national colours, female athletes were in the forefront as the Rio Olympics got underway at a glittering ceremony on Friday night.
Zehra Nemati, who not only became the first-ever Iranian woman to win a gold medal at an top international competition (2012 Paralympics at London), but also made history by qualifying for both the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, led her country’s contingent.
The 31-year-old Nemati had started of in taekwondo in which she had reached the black belt level before she was left paralysed in her legs after being injured in the 2003 earthquake. She then trained herself in archery.
An equally inspiring story is of the 10-member Refugee Olympic Team’s flag-bearer, athlete Rose Nathike Lokonyen, who had fled South Sudan with her family in 2002 and lived in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, where she used to train in bare feet.
Also part of the team, which comprises five runners from South Sudan, two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a marathon runner from Ethiopia, is 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who helped to save the lives of 20 fellow refugees when their boat started to sink whilst crossing between Turkey and Greece. Fittingly, she is one of the swimmers.
Standing out was Jamaican flag-bearer Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, pegged to become the first athlete to win three Olympic gold medals in the 100m event, who had dyed her hair in consonance with the national colours.
“I got my hair dyed green and yellow for the team,” Fraser-Pryce said before walking into the stadium, according to the Rio Olympics website. “My friend in Miami did it and it took about three hours.”
Greece, the first team to enter the arena in consonance with established custom, was led by Sofia Bekatorou, of sailing, and well over a third of the 207 contingents were led by women.
Prominent among these were of Algeria (judoka Sonia Asselah), Australia (cyclist Anna Meares), Cambodia (Seavmey Sorn, taekwondo), Canada (gymnast Rosannagh Maclennan), Bhutan (archer Karma Karma), United Arab Emirates (swimmer Nada Albedwawi), Indonesia (athlete Maria Londa), Italy (swimmer Federica Pellegrini), Nepal (judoka Phupu Lamu Khatri), Palestine (athlete Mayada al-Sayed), Kenya (archer Shehzana Anwar), Sri Lanka (athlete Indrajith Cooray), and Uruguay (Dolores Moreira Fraschini, sailing).
Coming last, but not the least, was the Brazilian contingent itself, led by Yane Marques, a promising contender in the modern pentathlon, and otherwise a sergeant in the army.