Tripoli - Few Libyan women would wear a swimming costume in
public, but Daniah Hagul wants to help change a conservative society when she
competes at the Rio Olympics.
In Libya "a significant number of boys but hardly any
other girls swim, so I hope that they watch me and are inspired to do the
same," said the 17-year-old.
Libya has a 1,770-kilometre (1,100-mile) coastline, but on
top of social pressures and political strife that followed the 2011 revolt
against dictator Moamer Kadhafi, swimming pools and clubs are almost
The budget of the Libyan Swimming Federation (LSF) is
Hagul will be the first female swimmer to represent Libya in
the Olympics since the revolution.
"It's such an honour and a privilege and I can't wait
to do my country proud," she told AFP.
Hagul has won medals in international competitions and
qualified for last year's World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Hagul's rise owes much to her parents' decision to move to
Malta in the 1990s. Many Libyans live in exile on the Mediterranean island.
"In Malta it gets really hot in the summer. Everyone is
always either in the pool or in the sea and everyone has to know how to
swim," she said.
"So I began swimming lessons just to know how to swim
at about the age of three or four. And when I was 12 I just decided that I
wanted to take it up properly, competitively."
Her father Bashir said living outside of Libya made it
possible for Hagul to compete internationally.
- beacon for Libyan women -
Bashir and his wife Samira hope that their daughter can help
change mentalities in their country.
"Competitive swimming for girls is new to Libya and
some people are finding the concept too much of a challenge," said Samira.
"However, I truly believe it all starts with parents
who should challenge rigid mindsets by encouraging and supporting their girls
to pursue this great sport."
Few women have represented Libya at the Olympics.
At the 2008 Beijing Games, Libyan-American Asmahan Farhat
won a heat in a 100m breaststroke but did not get to the semi-finals.
Freestyler Amira Edrahi competed at Athens in 2004, the
first Libyan woman swimmer at an Olympics since Soad and Nadia Fezzani in the
1980 Moscow Games.
The Libyan press has given Daniah little coverage.
But she is often mentioned on social media by Libyans who
hope she can win a medal -- a rare good news story for a country immersed in
Hagul has won a place at the Mount Kelly school in Britain's
Devon countryside. The school has produced 19 Olympic or Commonwealth Games
swimmers and six Olympic medal winners.
She is not impressed by the British weather but is inspired
by the school's swimming programme devised by Robin Brew who swam for Britain
at the 1984 Olympics.
"Robin is a great coach and mentor," Hagul said.
With Rio looming, Hagul gets up early every morning to swim
lengths before classes. During holidays in Malta, she spends hours training
with her coach.
"I remember watching the 2012 London Olympics at my
grandfather's farm in Azzahra, Libya where we used to spend all our summer holidays,"
"I used to watch all the swimming events really closely
and thought how wonderful it would be if I could represent Libya at the next
But even after she caught the attention of the Libyan
Olympic Committee, financial support has been limited because of the country's
Her training and travel costs have mostly been covered by
her parents. A Libyan conglomerate, HBGroup, has also supported her.
A crowd-funding campaign -- "Help fund Daniah's Olympic
Dream!" -- collected more than 6,800 euros ($7,700) in a month.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into her
swimming and it has all paid off," said Hagul's mother.
"Daniah is very focused, determined and always rises to
Also read: President Buhari warns Nigerian athletes against drugs in Rio
Hagul hopes to start university in 2017 and qualify as an
"I've always loved maths and design and recently I have
developed a real interest in photography. I think the combination of all three
subjects will hopefully pave the way for a career for me as an architect,"
Hagul is also looking forward to hearing the stories of
other Libyan athletes in Rio.
Only one other Libyan, 50-metre freestyler Ahmed Attellesey,
will be competing in the swimming. He trains in Sweden.
Other Libyans will compete in judo, taekwondo, athletics and
Libyans have taken part 10 Olympics, but never won a medal.
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