Olympic pioneer Ibtihaj Muhammad says she has 'unofficially' ended her fencing career

Cassandra Negley
Ibtihaj Muhammad of the United States watches her teammates compete with Russia in a women's team sabre fencing semifinal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Ibtihaj Muhammad is content with her fencing career and will step away. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim-American woman to wear a hijab at the Olympics, will step away from the sport of fencing and will likely not compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in London.

Muhammad told Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports she is “content” with her career and leaned on fellow famous friends who all recently made the tough decision to step away.

Muhammad: ‘unofficially hung up my sabre’

Muhammad said she came to the decision after her first hajj pilgrimage to Mecca last August.

She told NBC Sports:

“I have unofficially hung up my sabre. I feel really content with my career and where I am right now in my life. You know, fencing is not a big part of it anymore, but it’s always been my intention to transcend sport in a way that reaches people not just in the fencing world but outside of it. I think I’ve been able to best do that, not only representing my sport but representing myself.”

The 33-year-old said she spoke with friends Lindsay Vonn, who made the decision to leave skiing after more injuries this past winter, as well as Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy, who each retired after playing with and growing the U.S. soccer program.

Muhammad said she knew it was time, just as they had told her about themselves. She said she feels disconnected from the sport and views her story and life as “more than fencing.”

Muhammad made history in Rio

Muhammad took up the sport at the age of 17 — late by Olympic-level standards — and did not compete internationally until she was 23.

Muhammad was the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics in a hijab when she did so at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She helped Team USA to a bronze medal, becoming the first Muslim-American to win a medal at the games.

Her decision to hang it up does not come out of nothing. She spoke with Yahoo Sports in August 2016 about the responsibilities she holds in being an African-American, a Muslim and a woman with a high profile.

“I’m hoping just my presence on Team USA changes perceptions people have about the Muslim community. A lot of people have misconceptions about who Muslims are – and what a Muslim woman even looks like. Who I am challenges and shatters those stereotypes,” she said.

She met Ellen DeGeneres, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. Muhammed did media tours, including a piece on E:60 and in magazines. The recognition resulted in a Barbie doll made in her liking; it was the first Barbie to wear a hijab.

Her memoir, “Proud,” was released in 2018 and details some of the struggles she had with future teammates as she developed. She is still a prominent part of Nike campaigns, including the “Dream Crazier” ad released during the Oscars. Nike released a high-performance sport hijab and alongside Muhammad spoke out against France officials this past spring the country’s attitudes toward it.

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