Ibtihaj Muhammad ready for her ‘great opportunity’

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Ibtihaj Muhammad has used her profile as an Olympian to try to change misconceptions others might have about Muslim-Americans.

On Monday, she’ll become the first U.S. athlete to wear a hijab during the Olympics — and a medal in fencing isn’t out of the question either.

Muhammad, ranked eighth in the world in her weapon, will open individual women’s sabre competition against Olena Kravatska of Ukraine.

“I feel like this is a great opportunity and a great moment for Team USA to even be more diverse than we have in the past, and I’m just looking forward to representing myself, my community and also my country,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad, a New Jersey native who started fencing in part because the uniform allowed her to adhere to the tenets of her faith, first made headlines when she qualified for the Olympics this year.

Muhammad subsequently became one of the biggest faces of the U.S. team, appearing on talk shows all over the country while garnering attention not often showered on fencers.

“I wish that, not just my life, but the lives of Muslims all over the world were a little bit easier, particularly in the United States. I’m hoping that with my first-time appearance as a member of Team USA here at the Olympics, I’m hoping that the rhetoric around the Muslim community will change,” Muhammad said after arriving in Rio de Janeiro last week.

As far as the piste goes, Muhammad might just be peaking at the right time.

Muhammad, a three-time NCAA All-American at Duke, has had a slow but steady rise to the top of the sabre community. She has moved from 12th to eighth in the world standings in 2016 and won gold at the Pan American Championships in Panama in June.

Muhammad also won bronze medals in recent World Cups in Greece and France, and the Olympic fencing tournament has so far been kind to underdogs.

The first two gold medalists were ranked seventh and 11th in the world, respectively.

“Being in this moment,” Muhammad said, “I’m just very appreciative and thankful that I get to not just to do this for myself because it’s been a lot of hard work, but hopefully in turn do this for other people all around the world.”

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