Female Senegalese wrestler one of the country’s best medal hopes

Maggie Hendricks

What football is to America, traditional wrestling is to the African country of Senegal. Large stadiums are filled to watch men compete one-on-one in a sport that resembles freestyle wrestling. It's not surprising to see one of Senegal's best medal hopes to come in wrestling.

What is surprising is the wrestler in question is a woman.

"People here criticize women who wrestle a lot," said Sambou to Voice of America Radio.  "They say, 'you are not a man, so you can't do this.'  But they're wrong because it is a sport like any other sport, so a woman can do it and there's no difference."

Senegal's Isabelle Sambou competed in traditional wrestling, which emphasizes takedowns and has moves that are more MMA-based. When coaches saw her obvious talent, they suggested she move to Thies, a city in the northern part of the country, to train in freestyle, the discipline women compete in at the Olympics.

Competing at 48 kg (105 pounds), Sambou qualified by winning a qualification tournament. She also took second at the African Championships and took 10th at the world championship in 2011.

Sambou is doing this in a country where women's rights are limited. The U.S. Department of State said in a 2010 report Senegal's major human rights problems included rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment of and discrimination against women and female genital mutilation.

Even if she doesn't head back to Senegal with a medal around her neck, Sambou has proven to her country what women are capable of.