Donia Abu Talib took an historic step for Saudi women when she earned direct qualification for the taekwondo competition at the Paris Olympics and is determined to take another huge stride in France later this year.

The 27-year-old punched her ticket to the Games at the Asian qualifiers in March and her achievement was celebrated by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, the minister of sport and head of the Saudi Olympic Committee.

Saudi officialdom was not always so enamoured of women’s sport and it took the threat of exclusion from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the country to send its first two women athletes to London in 2012.

Donia overcame significant barriers on the path to her Olympic goal, forced to train at home from the age of 13 after being banned from the boy’s club where she had competed for five years.

“I’m obsessed with my dream,” she said in a recent video posted on social media.

“I mean, I fall asleep, I wake up all I think about is Paris.

“I feel like a global competitor since I qualified for Paris. It’s not an easy place to be in. So yes, I’m a tough opponent.”

Donia’s road to Paris was inspired by her late father, who encouraged her to take up a little-known combat sport at a time when girls were barred from physical exercise in schools in the conservative kingdom.

“Dad sparked my love for taekwondo,” she recalled. “I was eight-years-old at the time.

“Taekwondo was not yet popular. May God bless his soul, it was as if he sensed that women would make their mark in Saudi Arabia. He always supported me and whenever I wanted to quit, he would say, ‘no, don’t stop’.”

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Now a seasoned international athlete, Donia has won tournaments around the world as well as a bantamweight bronze at the 2022 Asian championships and a flyweight bronze at the world championships in Mexico the same year.

That success has earned her support from Saudi sporting bodies.

“Natural talent or a particular talent needs intensive training and personal efforts,” she said. “The Saudi federation have supported me since my Asian success.

“Administrative and technical staff, honestly, they were all the reasons behind Donia Abu Taleb’s success.”

The handful of previous female Olympians from Saudi Arabia were granted their spots through regional or IOC quotas and none made any mark in competition.

Donia, ranked 16th in the world, will therefore blaze another trail for Saudi women simply by winning one flyweight bout in Paris’s Grand Palais in August.

She and her family, though, have far greater ambitions.

“God willing, I will win the gold,” she added. “My mom told me ‘if you don’t win, I’ll give you a smack’.”

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