Athletics: Robina Yaar (Afghanistan) Eliminated in the 100m heats yesterday

Out of the warzones: a tale of two sprinters

In Olympic terms she was an also-ran, trailing in behind the leaders with her dreams shattered. But for 18-year-old Robina Yaar and for Afghanistan, the adage about "taking part being more important than winning" for once rang true.

In Olympic terms she was an also-ran, trailing in behind the leaders with her dreams shattered. But for 18-year-old Robina Yaar and for Afghanistan, the adage about "taking part being more important than winning" for once rang true.

Yaar, her demure green trousers contrasting with the revealing running costumes of her competitors, came seventh in her 100m heat yesterday, sinking Afghanistan's slim hopes of a medal. Her most ardent fans had to admit it wasn't one of her better performances.

But just reaching the starting line in Athens was an achievement for the teenager who, three years ago, was forced to wear a burqa in Taliban-run Kabul and was not allowed to go to school, but who has now become one of the first Afghan women to compete at the Olympics. She has become a heroine in her homeland and an inspiration to a new generation of sportswomen.

"I am proud to be going to the games and I want to win for Afghan women," she said before leaving Kabul, only a year after she began running.

She didn't win, but Afghans were ready to forgive her anything yesterday. "We watched on TV and she was waving proudly to the crowd afterwards," said sports commentator Jevid Jamili, who had broadcast news of the event on Armand FM radio station. "That gesture alone shows the self-confidence of Afghan women now."

At her home in Kabul Robina's brother and sister gathered around the television to watch the race on an Italian satellite sports channel. For years the television had to be hidden so the Taliban didn't find it.

There have been grumblings from some of the city's mullahs about a woman taking part in sports, but Yaar's decision to dress in long trousers had helped to appease them.

Yaar had to practise on the cracked, concrete running track in Kabul's main stadium, once the site of Taliban mutilations and executions. She complained that the track made her feet hurt.

Now she is looking forward to studying medicine but her more immediate challenge is to defy her parents wish for an arranged marriage and find the husband of her choice.

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