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Afghan and Iraqi run race of their lives

For medal contenders, it was a routine workout in the scorching sun. For two teenagers, though, Friday's women's 100 metres heats were the races of their lives.
PTI | By Bill Barclay (Reuters), Athens
PUBLISHED ON AUG 20, 2004 05:54 PM IST

For the medal contenders, it was a routine early-morning workout in the scorching Athens sun.

For two teenagers from Afghanistan and Iraq, though, Friday's Olympic women's 100 metres heats were the races of their lives.

No event in the track and field programme has been more sullied by the drugs scandals that have engulfed athletics, a fact that threw the modest but uplifting runs of Afghan Robina Muqim Yaar and Iraq's Alaa Jassim into even more stark relief.

Yaar and judoka Freba Rezai are the first women from war-torn Afghanistan to compete at the Olympics.

The 18-year-old sprinter lined up alongside 37-year-old twice Olympic 100m champion Gail Devers in her heat and even managed to avoid finishing last.

Yaar clocked what officials said was an Afghan record of 14.14 seconds, almost three seconds behind heat winner Veronica Campbell of Jamaica, too slow to qualify for the next round but ahead of eighth-placed Somali Fartun Abukar Omar.

Speaking to an Afghan radio reporter by telephone afterwards, she was ecstatic.

"This will be the biggest memorable moment for me in my life because I did pretty well in the Olympics," she said. "At least I was ahead of one person.

"I will never, ever forget this moment in my life."

For a moment, Yaar let herself get thoroughly carried away.

"Now I am sure of myself and I will get at least a medal in the Games in 2008."

"The biggest problem in Afghanistan is facilities. We don't have the stadiums, we don't have the tracks.

"We are running in a very harsh situation. We do not have good shoes.

"If these problems can be solved in Afghanistan I'm sure I can win a medal in the Olympic Games of 2008."

Jassim, who has been training in a dilapidated Baghdad stadium in troubled post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, finished eighth in her heat in 12.70, also missing out on a qualifying place.

"This is a great honour for me to be here in the Olympics, I feel I am here representing all the Iraqi people, not just the women," the 18-year-old told reporters.

"I started training for these Olympics in March but because of the situation there I couldn't train as well as I wanted to.

"If it was possible I would have trained five to six times a week but because of the bombs and explosions I often could not.

"In the actual race I was thinking only of getting past that finish line."

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