Olympic hopeful looks to make a symbolic mark

The U.S. teams for the London Olympics are taking shape. And if one young contender has her way, her sport may get a new look. CBS News Michelle Miller has her story.

In a sport dominated by white athletes, 26-year-old fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad stands out.

"I know that I am different," she said. "But once my mask goes on, and the official or referee tells us to fence, then it's game time. My purpose when I compete is to win."

If Muhammad qualifies for the U.S. Olympic team, she will make history, not because of her race or her religion, but what she chooses to wear.

Muhammad fences in her hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering. While Muslim athletes from other countries have competed wearing one, Muhammad would be the first American to do so.

"What does that mean to you?" Miller asked Muhammad.

"It's hard to believe that it's 2012, and we haven't had a covering of some woman represent the United States. But if I am blessed and fortunate enough to qualify, I would feel honored to be in that position."

Getting that position will be tough. Muhammad's specialty is the saber, and the Olympic fencing team only has two spots in that category. She spends more than 30 hours a week sharpening her skills and works as a coach six days a week to help pay her way.

Her parents see her as a new American role model.

"For the Muslim youth to have someone to look up to, and positivity. That is not something they see in our media. They see negative images. So it's a wonderful thing," said mother Inayah Muhammad.

" I hope my story reaches not only Muslim youth," said Ibtihaj, "and not only minorities, but women to believe that with all the hard work and all the training, that anything is possible."

Currently ranked third in the nation, Muhammad has three more tournaments left to qualify for the Summer Games. She finds out if she makes the roster in March.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.