World champion Salwa Eid Naser ready to 'go for the world record'

"A woman running 47.6 is a big deal. I think it's so scary. The scariest part of my dream is breaking the world record because I know it's huge."

7 min By Olympic Channel
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Bahrain's 400m runner Salwa Eid Naser turned heads at the Youth Olympic Games 2014.

She claimed the silver medal while wearing a hijab and a full bodysuit.

Five years later, the 21-year-old became the youngest ever women's 400m world champion. Her winning time of 48.14 seconds is the third fastest of all time. She ran at Doha 2019 without the hijab, and that wasn't the only difference.

She told her story to Evelyn Watta for the Olympic Channel Podcast.

Salwa Eid Naser after winning the women's 400m world title in Doha
Salwa Eid Naser after winning the women's 400m world title in Doha

Salwa Eid Naser on winning the women's 400m title at the 2019 World Athletics Championships

"I wanted to get the gold. But going into that race I was so nervous. The way you want to get something, you are like a little bit scared if it's going to happen or not.

"I'm that sort of person that when I want to get something, I really put my all in it. And if it doesn't work out, I'll be disappointed.

"So, that was why I was nervous, because I really wanted to get that gold.

"But when I got to the starting block, I just found a whole boost. I felt so much energy. And at that moment I was ready, I wasn't scared anymore after standing on my blocks."

Salwa Eid Naser before the 400m women's final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships
Salwa Eid Naser before the 400m women's final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships

How Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain ran the third fastest women's 400m time ever

"It's crazy to start a race that fast and you keep holding that form. I didn't believe I would be able to hold that form for very long.

"Shaunae (Miller-Uibo- the 2016 Olympic champion) was there. She's a very strong athlete. And I knew that it was not going to be easy. But I'd been preparing the whole season for that race. I knew it was going to take me a lot to win.

"I thought she was going to come closer, at that back(stretch), at the finish. Chasing me (like) crazy. I had prepared for it anyway.

"The finish, that was my favorite part. Some say that backstretch. But for me the finish was what I loved most.

"I slowed down a bit over the last 10 metres. I celebrated too early. I think if I had someone to push me to the finish line, I was going to run off, with a 47.9 or a 48.0.

That time? 48:14 seconds? I’m still thinking about it - Salwa on her impressive new personal best

"But I'm still surprised. I'm still shocked. That time? 48.14 seconds? I’m still thinking about it. I don't believe I did that time.I'm still not used to it. Sometimes I ask my friends, did I really do that? I cannot stop thinking about it.

"I never imagined that I could run that. I never expected that time. Yes, I wanted to win. But that time was something that hasn't really settled in. I've not even digested it yet."

Salwa on moving to Bahrain, leaving Nigeria, and wearing a bodysuit to race

"When I was 14, we moved to Bahrain. I kept on training. My first competition for Bahrain was at the 2014 Arab Junior Athletics Championships in Egypt. And then the 2015 World Youth...

"At the World Youth after my semifinals, I cried a lot. I cried because I had a very, very bad time.

"(Even though I won) the only thing I clearly remember about that championship is me crying at the semifinals.

"No one could tell me anything.

"I'm kind of emotional about the things that I want, you know. I remember crying bitterly."

Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain wearing a hijab after winning the Girls 400m Final at the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2015 
Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain wearing a hijab after winning the Girls 400m Final at the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2015 

"People were thinking maybe the long dress contributed to it. They thought it was because I was sweating, or I couldn't breathe. It's just a piece of cloth. It was normal, not heavy. It didn't add anything, and it really didn’t take away anything. Nothing.

"I felt comfortable running with that. (Salwa ran in a body suit and hijab). I was uncomfortable because I'm naturally a shy person. You know, I don't mix with the crowd. I don't like talking to people. I keep to myself. So, I wasn't comfortable with that. You know, people staring at me and stuff. I had to manage. There's nothing I can do."

"I know that it's going to draw people's attention to sports more in Bahrain. So, we're hoping to have more female runners, more female athletes.

"I know it really meant a lot for Nigeria. You know, being that I'm from Nigeria.

"I'm happy, you know, that they're were celebrating me.

"Most people would think that they won't, being that I'm not representing Nigeria, but they're really celebrating, and I'm quite happy about that."

Salwa Eid Naser on aiming for the world record

"Sometimes I say my dreams are scary because it seems impossible and they scare me. But I think your goals must scare you. If they don't scare, you then they are not big enough.

"After the 2017 the World Championships when I got the silver medal, I said I wanted to break the world record. And I know I know that comment really got lots of people talking. Like, ‘what is she talking about?’

"The scariest part of my passion is breaking the world record because I know it's huge. It's really huge!

"A woman running 47.6 is a big deal. I think it's so scary. You know, the pain after that race is going to be burning.

"Before that race (World Championships final in Doha), I would say I will try my best to win the Olympics. But after the race, I think I'm going for the world record to be frank with you. That race really boosted my morale."

Salwa Eid Naser on 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics

"For Tokyo, I would love to run my heats relaxed.

"And I'm expecting a fast time, I mean I'm really going for that world record. And I hope it's going to happen.

I'm really going for that world record and I hope it's going to happen - Salwa on 2020 hopes

"My friends have been telling me, 'Go for the world record!'

"It means a lot to be the only Bahraini woman to win a 400m gold medal in the world championships, it means a lot."

Salwa Eid Naser on her tattoos and piercings

"A lot of athletes have tattoos. I don't think I'm the only one.

"But, you know, people are like, 'Oh, she's a walking tattoo.' I only have nine tattoos. Just nine! It’s not that I have tattoos on my face. I'm not Wiz Khalifa!

"I also have five body piercings. My first was my belly button.

"My favorite tattoo is the one on my left hip. Because I had a name there and covering it up.

"It was a mistake that I made. Covering it up was so important."

"Tattoos are addictive. You never want to stop because, you know, it's when you see something else, you want to add that and maybe something will happen in future and you really want to get that done.

"Next year I'm getting one. Tokyo 2020, the Olympic rings. I want to get that one."

Facts on Salwa Eid Naser born in Nigeria as Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu to a Nigerian mother and Bahraini father.

  • Born May 23,1998
  • Switched allegiance to Bahrain in 2014, converted to Islam and changed her name.
  • She is a Youth Olympic Games silver medallist from 2014 Nanjing
  • 2015 World Youth Champion
  • Won her first senior title at the 2015 World Military Games in 51.39 seconds
  • She reached the semi finals at Rio 2016
  • Took silver at the 2017 World Championships in 50.04 seconds
  • Clinched gold at the 2018 Asian Games in 50.09 seconds
  • Completed 200m/400m double at the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships
  • Finished the 2019 season unbeaten
  • She is coached by Dominacan Jose Rubio

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