Lucky to be alive, living the dream

After surviving car bombs and bullets flying past her on the track, Iraqi sprinter Abdulrazak lines up in 100m

It was just before 11am local time yesterday when the athlete in lane seven settled down into her starting blocks in race two of the women's 100m first-round heats in the Beijing National Stadium. Wearing a plain white T-shirt and cycling shorts, Dana Abdulrazak could have passed for a mid-morning jogger or even a school sports-day sprinter, had it not been for the five-ringed Olympic logo stamped on to the number (2055) pinned to her top.

Ahead of her, as she glanced up, was the home straight of the Bird's Nest arena. Behind her was a perilous journey that very nearly claimed her life. Slow to rise from the blocks, Abdulrazak battled all the way to the line, her arms punching away in a style more reminiscent of the boxing ring. The fight in her took her past two rivals. She finished sixth in 12.36sec, a full second behind Christine Arron, Europe's fastest-ever woman, but the letters PB flashed up on the scoreboard next to her name.

"This is not correct," she stressed, speaking deep in the bowels of the stadium, which was filled to its 91,000 capacity for a Saturday-morning track session comprising mainlyheats. "I have run faster. I amnot happy with my time. There were two false starts and that unsettled me. But I am very happy and very proud to be here at the Olympic Games. It has not been easy to get here. It is very difficult for me to run in Iraq."

That would be one way of putting it. During one training session on the mortar-scarred track at Baghdad University, Abdulrazak was fired at by a sniper. The shot missed her by an inch. "I wasn't killed because, thank God, I happened to be running at the time," she reflected.

It was not the only close call as the 21-year-old pursued her Olympic dream in her war-torn homeland. "There were severalassassination attempts on our way home – car bombs and explosions," her coach, Yousif Abdel-Rahman, said. "Many times when we were driving home we were followed by gunmen who started shooting at us. It was Dana's insistence that pushed me to continue working with her. She is a brave girl."

Abdulrazak said: "I just shut it all out and kept at it." As she spoke, the other female speed merchants filed past clutching designer sporting bags. Abdulrazak was holding a paper shopping bag. "It is not a big deal that I am wearing this," she said, tugging at her T-shirt. "This is normal in Iraq. We do not have a national team vest."

In Iraq, they do not have a nation as such, she might have added of a land riven by sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims since the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. "We cut deals with Shiite militiamen and Sunni insurgents just so I can pick her up for training," Abdel-Rahman said. It is a conflict that coach and athlete hope their efforts can transcend. Abdel-Rahman is a Sunni, Abdulrazak a Shiite. The pair are engaged to be married.

Their partnership has blossomed against a background of Iraqi sporting figures being targeted by terrorists. More than 30 athletes, coaches and officials have been victims. A dozen members of the national taekwondo team were found dead last year after being kidnapped on a highway in Anbar Province. Four members of the former Iraqi Olympic Committee, including the president, Ahmed al-Samrrai, were kidnapped two years ago and have not been heard of since.

When Saddam was in power, his son Uday was in charge of the National Olympic Committee. He tortured athletes who underperformed.

It was only the week before the Games began that Abdulrazak and three fellow countrymen (two rowers and an archer) were given the go-ahead to compete in Beijing after the International Olympic Committee lifted the ban imposed on Iraq.

"Participation in the Olympics means a lot to me, because I am representing an entire country, not just myself," Abdulrazak reflected. "I cried for two-and-a-half hours when I heard on television that we were banned from the Games.

"When I learned we were going to come here after all, my happiness was indescribable. The Olympic Games are beautiful."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition