halet cambel

Obit of the Day: 1st Muslim Woman to Compete at the Olympics

Halet Cambel was uncomfortable traveling to Berlin for the 1936 Games. Disgusted by the Nazi regime, she went reluctantly in order to represent their still-young republic, founded in 1923. She and fellow fencer Suat Fetgeri Aseni Tarı were also the first two women ever to represent Turkey in the Olympics. But when invited to meet Adolf Hitler personally, both Ms. Cambel and Ms. Tari turned down the invitation as a small act of personal integrity.

Ms. Cambel and her colleague came away medal-less from the Games that year, which Ms. Cambel recognized was partially due to lackadaisical training on the part of the Turkish team. (The team did earn a gold and a bronze in wrestling, the first in the history of country which had attended four previous Games.)

Returning home to Turkey, Ms. Cambel studied archeology and the Hittite, Assyrian, and Hebrew languages, at the Sorbonne. She would then earn her Ph.D. from the University of Istanbul.

Working with her mentor Helmuth Bossert, she assisted in the excavation of the ancient Hittite fortress city of Karatepe in Southern Turkey. Karatepe would become her life’s work, as she would spend half of each year over the next half-century at the site. 

Halet Cambel died on January 12, 2014 at the age of 97.

Sources: Telegraph, BBC and Wikipedia

(Image of the 1936 Turkish Olympic fencing team, featuring Halet Cambel, second white-outfitted women from the right is courtesy of tvinemedia.blogspot.com)