Saudi Arabia holds first marathon for women 1,500 take part as women are empowered through sports Credit: Al Marsad

Manama: Mizna Al Nassar, the winner of a 3km race in Saudi Arabia, said she was looking forward to representing her country at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Mizna, a 28-year-old engineer, ran the race in 15 minutes, beating challengers from the US and Taiwan who came second and third in the ‘Al Ahsa Runs’ competition in Al Ahsa, eastern Saudi Arabia, on Saturday.

According to Saudi news site Sabq, around 1,500 women took part in the race, while those who signed up were around 2,000, a much higher than expected number that forced organisers to stop accepting participants.

Mizna said that she had the full support of her family and that there were no obstacles to her participation in track competitions.

She added her family had regularly motivated her and that she was committed to being fit for all races.

The champion attributed her breakthrough success to the fact that she made sure she ate only specific types of food and that she was following a special training.

Mizna said that she had been training daily since 2014, explaining that she was particularly fond of running.

After representing the kingdom at the Islamic solidarity games and the Arab games, she now wanted to participate at the Olympics.

Last month, Saudi officials announced that women will be allowed to take part in the Riyadh international marathon next year.

Women have made impressive strides in recent months in Saudi Arabia as the society is undergoing intensive changes that saw them organise tournaments and attend sporting events in major stadiums.

The kingdom has in recent months eased restrictions on women, including the lifting of a driving ban — set to go into effect in June.

In September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day.

Later in January, sports matches were officially opened up to women spectators.

Now, officials are encouraging women to participate in fitness and sports activities.

The easing of social controls comes as Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman looks to repackage the nation as more moderate and welcoming.

The crown prince’s Vision 2030 programme for a post-oil era stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an energy slump.

As a part of the crown prince’s reforms drive, Saudi Arabia announced in December it was lifting a decades-ban on cinemas with the first movie theatres expected to open in March.