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Newz Forum: OLYMPICS: Iraq sprinter off to an historic start

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posted on Aug, 20 2004 @ 11:38 AM
She doesn't want to be a symbol, either, nor the poster girl for President Bush getting four more years. On Aug. 13, Bush unleashed a new ad, featuring an Olympic swimmer, saying that two more democracies -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- will be competing in this year's Games thanks to efforts by his Dubyaness.

Ala'a Jassim, left, finished 52nd out of 63 sprinters in qualifying for the 100.
The lone Iraqi woman in Athens, Ala'a Jassim, doesn't want to be cased by politicos as living proof of freedom and Americana and the wonderful ways of the West.

But she is, of course.

She is because of the way she answers in English -- which she knows very little of -- when asked after Friday morning's 100 meter dash prelim if she would be running and representing her country if Saddam Hussein were still in power: "I don't know."

She is because of what Ahmed Al-Samarri, Iraq's Olympic Committee President, says: "Women's sports started from ground zero here because of the previous regime, which had abused many, many girls who wish to practice or join sports."

She is because of how the crowd at the opening ceremonies strongly applauded the few Iraqi athletes, proudly carrying their flag.

She is because the night before her 100-meter race, as she slept, 77 Iraqis were killed and another 70 wounded in Najaf, and American writers want to see how she feels about her country's current state.

She is because she says, "I hope I'm the first step for a new generation" of Iraqi women who will see her sprint and train and flex and sweat and work for her own singular, liberating, empowering goals

Ala'a sprinted 100 meters this morning and finished last in her heat, passing at 12.70 seconds, good for 52nd out of the 63 who ran. She is shorter and stockier than the other racers, less cut, and less wealthy. She wore glasses when sprinting and let her long black hair flow in a ponytail as she ran. On her feet were used shoes. Her uniform was not a collage of Iraqi colors but instead just navy blue.

She was nervous before the race from being around the sculpted and endorsed competition. "I was a little afraid of competing with such big names."

Her face is angular and defined, and she has perfectly white teeth, which rarely get shown because American journalists keep asking her about the war, which for the record, she says, "was a very bad idea."

She is anxious to point out the mess that the mostly-American military has made of her country. She says in Arabic that sometimes she cannot train because of bombs or street fights.

Her Olympic bio says that she has no sponsor, so she uses second-hand equipment.

But still, she is here.

She left Olympic Stadium wearing her white and green jumpsuit with IRAQ in bold, black letters as a last-place finisher.

Everyone knows the brutal torture chambers Iraqi athletes were subject to if they turned in a lousy show.

Iraqi athletes have been interviewed a lot during the Games, and most are critical of the Bush Administration and are very opinionated about being propped up with a smiley face as a champion for his re-election campaign.

The Iraqis want to make this clear: They're here for their country, their people, and themselves. Ala'a Jassim is included, and Al-Samarrai said that she's Iraq's lone female "success" story this year.

Says Ala'a: "I represent not only all Iraqi women but all Iraqi people."

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