Afghans' Olympic pride
For generations, Afghanistan has been famous for its fighters and its battlefields. But now a new generation of Afghans are making their mark in a new field: athletics. And a group of Afghan athletes - both men and women - are aiming for victory at the London 2012 Olympics.
Tahmina Kohistani, a 20 year-old runner from Afghanistan's eastern province of Kapisa, is Afghanistan's women’s 100m champion and has qualified for London. During an interview with NATOChannel television on the track of the newly-transformed Olympic Stadium in Kabul, where the Taliban once publicly executed women, Tahmina says that originally her desire was simply to qualify for the games, just to "get there". Now she has accomplished that, she wants to win: "to make a record for Afghanistan".
Another runner, 24-year-old Masood Azizi, is the country's champion for 100m and 200m races. Masood will accompany Tahmina to London as a qualified competitor. He says, "I'm going to London for the first time. This competition means a lot because every athlete's desire is to be a candidate for the Olympics and try to get a good result".
For Rohullah Nipah, taekwondo champion, participating in Olympic Games is nothing new. He made history in Beijing 2008 when he won bronze - the first medal for Afghanistan. He is now returning to the Games alongside a very able fellow-Afghan competitor, Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, who came first in the Asian Games held in China last year. Although during their interviews both of these men speak little about their own ambitions, their effort speaks for itself, as it involves staggeringly long and punishing workouts for a sport that routinely causes strained joints and broken bones. Both men give credit to their South Korean coach, Min Sin-Hak, for his dedication to developing their programme.
Other contact sports have a strong showing as well, including judo champion Ajmal Faizad who will be competing along with boxer Ajmal Faisal. Faisal says: "At the Olympics we will see the famous faces of boxers from all over the world but I've trained hard and, God willing, I'll do well and come back to Afghanistan with a medal".
These sportsmen and women are the final elite who have qualified to represent Afghanistan in the prestigious Olympic Games, but they are just a few faces in the vast and energetic crowd of the country’s robust and fast-growing athletic culture. The recent, post-Taliban years have seen Afghan athletics progress into a more inclusive and more diverse community comprised of individuals fighting against economic, social and myriad other obstacles - including physical impairments caused by war. Other success stories include the now-legendary cricket team, the newly-formed but respected rugby team, there are basketball players, female boxers, power-lifters....the list is endless.
For now, the focus is on the Olympic Games in London and like all the other competitors, the Afghan athletes are honoured to represent their country. Each one is of course hoping to bring home a medal, but whatever the results they can all be proud that they are a part of the brighter side of Afghanistan 's history.