Woman is ready for first competition after ruling

Kulsoom Abdullah (left), who trains in Atlanta, has been interested in sports since she was young. Her faith requires her to wear clothing that covers her legs, arms and head.

Kulsoom Abdullah's Ph.D. from Georgia Tech and black belt in taekwondo are proof she doesn't back away from challenges.


On Friday, she will become the first woman to compete in the national weightlifting championships while wearing clothing that covers her legs, arms and head, in keeping with her Muslim faith.

Abdullah, 35, entered the nationals in Council Bluffs, Iowa after the International Weightlifting Federation ruled on her behalf two weeks ago that athletes could wear a full-body "unitard" under the customary weightlifting uniform.

The ruling placed a spotlight on Abdullah, who lives in Atlanta, for her first national competition.

"It will be like an ice-breaker type of experience and hopefully getting over nerves and things like that because I've never been to a competition at this level," Abdullah said.

She said she already considers her participation a victory, simply because she now has the right to lift while covered.

"I think that was the biggest thing for me," she said.

Before June's ruling, IWF rules stated that an athlete's knees and elbows must be visible so officials can determine if a lift is correctly executed. The unitard, worn under the customary weightlifting uniform, will provide Abdullah the covering her faith requires while allowing judges to see if she properly locks her elbows and knees.

IWF vice president Sam Coffa, of Australia, who leads the organization's technical committee, noted in the ruling that weightlifters always have been allowed to wear head coverings such as the hijab.

Abdullah, who weighs about 100 pounds, will compete in the 48 kilogram (105.82 pounds) weight class. Coach Jake Rubash said she can dead lift about 250 pounds.

Her younger brother, Nayab, is proud she "could go down in history as a woman in sports who inspired other women to do things.

"I can remember when I was 10 years old and she was like 20 that I said 'I bet you can't beat me in arm wrestling,' " Nayab said. "Now it might be a challenge."