Even for a 17-year-old, Noor al-Malki is slight, just a touch over 5ft (1.52 metres) tall and a little under 45kg. That small frame shoulders a heavy burden: this summer Noor will become the first female athlete ever to compete for Qatar in the Olympics.
Her active participation should last about 13 seconds, which is how long it takes her to run the 100m. By Olympic standards that is treacle-slow, over a second outside the qualifying mark. Qatar had to seek special dispensation from the International Olympic Committee just to get her a place on the starting blocks.
But then Noor is not in it for a medal. Her aims are less tangible, more ambitious. “I could not believe it when they told me I was going to the Olympics,” she said. “It was a shock, but it was also a source of immense happiness and pride. It is the dream of every athlete in Qatar, and I will be taking that with me. I am nervous, but I try to overcome that by focusing on the fact that I am going for a specific reason, which is to represent Qatari women, and to encourage more women to get into sport.
“I want to show people that Qatari women take sport seriously. Regardless of any specific country or region I want the whole world to understand that sports is something, where you can show your talent. Whether you are a boy or a girl, if you don’t practise sport then there is something missing in your life.” It is, as they say, the taking part that counts.
Qatar is also sending a swimmer, Nada Arkaji, 17, and a rifle shooter, Bahia al-Hamad, 19. The three teenagers are close friends and enjoy each other’s successes. Their presence will help London 2012 become the first Olympics in which the split between male and female athletes is 50/50.