Moving stories

Six tales to tug the heartstrings
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The Independent Online

Jane Saville

Jane Saville

The tears the Australian race- walker wept as she approached the finish in the 20km event were nothing like those she shed in Sydney four years ago. Back then the Sydneysider was disqualified for "lifting", failing to maintain unbroken contact with the ground, when she was entering the stadium, just 120m from victory in her home Olympics. Last Monday she made it to the finish in Athens, a tearful bronze medallist. "Nothing can make up for losing the gold medal in Sydney," she said, "but this is pretty good. Greece is where the Olympics began, and any medal here is great. I'm absolutely ecstatic."

Matt Hemingway

His grandfather's cousin was Ernest Hemingway, and the American high-jumper feared he would never make a name for himself when he finished 10th in the US Olympic trials in 2000. It was his second failure to make the team. In 1996 he was fourth in the trials, losing a place in his home Olympics.on a countback. Such was his disappointment that he gave up and became a white-water rafting instructor, but his comeback for 2000 and then 2004 paid off in the Olympic Stadium last Sunday night when the 31-year-old took the silver medal behind Stefan Holm. "It's taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get this," he said.

Agueda Amaral

The lady from Timor lined up with the slowest time of the 82 entrants for the marathon last Sunday. She finished in 65th place, in 3hr 18min 25sec. There was only one finisher behind her, but 16 starters failed to make it to the Panathinaiko Stadium, among them Paula Radcliffe. Amaral had no idea who Radcliffe was and was oblivious to the history and nature of the course. She had assumed the route would be flat. Having been forced to flee her home and hide in the hills from the Indonesian militia in 1999, she probably did not regard the tough course and oppressive conditions as a great hardship.

Frankie Fredericks

It was not meant to end like that for the great Namibian speed merchant. The commotion that held up the start of the men's 200m final on Thursday, the misguided Greek support for Kostas Kenteris, and the jeering of the American trio visibly upset the 36-year-old as he prepared for his last hurrah. He appealed to the crowd for hush - to no avail. It was the demeaning of the occasion, as much as his fourth-placed finish, that had Fredericks in tears in the stadium tunnel afterwards. "It's the first time in my life that I've run in an atmosphere like that," he said. "It's quite emotional."

Ala'a Hikmat Jassim

Iraq's only female competitor in Athens finished eighth and last in her 100m heat. For the 18-year-old student from Baghdad, however, recording the 52nd-fastest time of the 63 competitors - 12.70sec - was an achievement beyond measure. Jassim lives in a house with a corrugated iron roof and limited water supply. She has dodged gun battles and bombings - often on her way to train at al-Kishafa Stadium, where her starting "blocks" are holes in a dirt track. "I have proved that Iraqi people can do anything - not just in sport," she said. "All of us have suffered but we must do everything we can."

Merlene Ottey

After seven Olympics and eight medals, the grand dame of sprinting took her final bow from the back seat of a buggy. At 44, Ottey made it to the semi-finals of the 100m and 200m, but in the longer event she failed to make it to the finish. After pulling up injured, she departed in a buggy, waving. The final irony was to come. No track-and-field athlete has won more medals than Ottey's eight, but she never got gold. After being criticised for taking the place of emerging Jamaican sprinters in Sydney, she switched nationality to Slovenia - only to see Jamaica win the 4 x 100m relay on Friday night.