Afghan runner hopes Olympics will help women's sport

LONDON July 24 Sapa-dpa | 24 July, 2012 19:39
Tahmina Kohistani of Afghanistan in action during heat 2 of the women's 100m during day one of the 12th IAAF World Junior Championships at the Zawisca Stadium on July 8, 2008 in Bydgoszcz, Poland. (July 8, 2008 - Source: Hamish Blair/Getty Images Europe)

Afghanistan's only female athlete at the London Olympics, Tahmina Kohistani, on Tuesday expressed hope that her presence will help women practising sport in her country.

The 23-year-old sprinter is one of six athletes from the war-torn country present at the London Games, which open on Friday.
She competes with long trousers, long sleeves and a head scarf.
Her personal best of 13.40 seconds makes it unlikely that she will progress from the heats, but just being there is a strong statement, as like in some other Muslim countries it is difficult for women in Afghanistan to practice sports.
"I know getting a medal in the Olympics is very difficult, but I am here to open a new way for the women of Afghanistan," she told the Olympic news service.
"Coming to the Olympics was one of my dreams. It's more than eight years that I am running. This is my first Games and I am the only girl to represent Afghanistan in athletics.
"In Afghanistan it is different from here in London. Every day I have to face a lot of problems when I go to training. All along there have been people who wanted to disturb me, to stop me.
"In my society there is no sport for females. My people do not accept sport for women; they think sport is not good for them."
Due to decades of war, there has been no sports development in Afghanistan. The country first participated in the Summer Olympics in 1936 but there were no Afghan athletes between 1980 and 2004. During the Taliban regime from 1996 until 2001, all forms of sports were banned.
Of the 2012 team, taekwondo athlete Rohullah Nikpai is Afghanistan's biggest hope, having won the country's only Olympic medal to date - a bronze in 2008.
Kohistani has no illusions about what she faces in the Olympic stadium.
"I don't think I will qualify for the finals, my time is not good enough," she said.
"But I am going to run on competition day knowing that a lot of people will be watching me; those who like me and support me, and those who are not ready to support me and my sport.
"Being a Muslim female athlete is most important for me. I represent a country where every day there are suicide bomb blasts. It is important that a girl from such a country can be here.
"It is all in the mind. The race is fast. If any of the favourites make a mistake, maybe it will be a miracle for me."