One thing was certain: Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round judo match at the 2016 Olympic Games.
But the reasoning behind her absence was decidedly less clear.
Speculation abounded when it was announced that Fahmy, a young Saudi Arabian athlete who has been training in Santa Monica, would not compete in the women’s 52-kilogram division Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
The Saudi Olympic Committee stated in a tweet Sunday that the judoka had sustained hand and foot injuries and that medical staffers said she should not participate.
Fahmy was expected to meet Christianne Legentil of Mauritius in a match whose winner would be pitted against five-time Israeli national champion Gili Cohen. Legentil, who advanced by default, ended up defeating Cohen in the round of 16.
Israeli media outlets reported that Saudi Arabia dropped Fahmy from the bracket to avoid a possible matchup against an Israeli competitor. Relations between Fahmy’s home country and the Jewish state have historically been characterized by hostility.
“Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, though an ex-Saudi general led a delegation to Jerusalem two weeks ago, and meet with Israeli officials and politicians, in the latest of a series of conciliatory moves,” the Times of Israel reported. “A former Israeli cabinet minister who met the visiting group said … that normal ties between the two countries might not be too far away.”
Kosovo’s Majlinda Kelmendi ousted Italy’s Odette Giuffrida in the championship round of Fahmy’s bracket, securing the first Olympic medal in her country’s history.
Jim Nieto, a longtime Santa Monica YMCA martial arts instructor who coached Fahmy in the runup to the 2016 Games in Rio, said his trainee likely wouldn’t have advanced to face Cohen anyway. He noted Fahmy’s lack of experience relative to Legentil, who reached the quarterfinals at the Olympics four years ago in London.
“Joud probably didn’t have a shot, but I feel sorry for her,” Nieto said. “Let her fight — even if she lasts 10 seconds. She busted her butt for almost a year to get there.”
It seemed fishy to Nieto that Fahmy was reported to have injuries so close to her match date. He said top-notch fighters typically don’t spar the day before they compete.
Fahmy recently spent time at a training camp in Florida, where practice was interspersed with massages and acupuncture.
Fahmy then participated in opening ceremonies, entering Maracana Stadium with a Saudi contingent that included women for the second time in history. She was invited to compete in Brazil in part because her home country has been pressured to include female athletes on its Olympic team.
Nieto said he and Fahmy had a few conversations about gender inequality over the last year. But he said it’s difficult for him to accept how Saudi Arabia treats women.
“She’s a good lady,” he said of Fahmy. “It’s just a totally different way of thinking. It’s hard to conceive.”
“I’ve been training [Fahmy] all year long and pushing her real hard to try to get her prepared,” he said.