By Mike Rowbottom at the Olympic Stadium in London

Sarah Attar_09-08-12August 8 - Sarah Attar finished more than half-a-minute behind the field in her women's 800 metres heat here, but as the 19-year-old crossed the line she was given a standing ovation, having just become the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in track and field at the Olympics.

Attar (pictured above), who runs at Pepperdine University near Los Angeles, has dual citizenship – an American mother and a Saudi father – and chose to represent her father's country as a way of inspiring women.

She made her appearance five days after a Saudi judoka had become the ultra-conservative country's first ever female Olympic competitor.

"This is such a huge honour and an amazing experience, just to be representing the women," said Attar, who ran in a long-sleeved green top, black leggings and a white hood, in keeping with Saudi tradition, despite a temperature that reached 70 degrees.

"I know that this can make a huge difference."

After finishing in 2min 44.95sec, she added: "For women in Saudi Arabia, I think this can really spark something to get more involved in sports, to become more athletic.

"Maybe in the next Olympics, we can have a very strong team to come."

Wojdan Shaherkani_09-08-12Sixteen-year-old Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani (right) became the first female athlete from the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to compete at an Olympic Games

This year, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Saudi Arabia broke its practice of fielding male-only teams by entering Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani in judo and Attar in track and field.

Saudi Arabia is one of three Islamic countries, along with Qatar and Brunei, that brought female athletes to the Games for the first time, making this the first Olympics in which every national team includes a woman.

Some Saudi clerics were dismissive of the judoka's exploits, claiming she had dishonoured herself by fighting in front of men, including the referee and judges.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to travel abroad without permission from a male guardian.

Last year they were told they would be allowed to vote, but not before 2015.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related storeis
August 2012: 82 seconds of Olympic history on the judo mat
July 2012: Saudi Arabia to send two women competitors to London 2012
June 2012: Tim Woodhouse - Saudi Arabia's decision on female athletes is more symbolic than revolutionary
June 2012: Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete at London 2012
May 2012: Rogge refuses to give Saudi Arabia escape route by letting women compete under IOC flag