Asia

Afghan Olympic hopefuls going for gold

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Media captionRohullah Nikpai won bronze for Afghanistan in the 2008 Beijing games, the country's only Olympic medal so far

It is not easy being an athlete in Afghanistan. Sporting dreams compete against almost overwhelming odds. Every athlete has a story to tell.

But at this year's Games in London, the national team is hoping to make history and bring a little Olympic glory home.

Zahir Aghbar, head of Afghanistan's national Olympic federation, says that "sport is very important for Afghanistan these days". He is "very happy that the world's media headlines are focusing on Afghan sports rather than on violence".

Afghanistan's national Olympic team is made up of six athletes - five men and one woman - who will be representing their country in taekwondo, athletics, boxing and judo.

One of them, taekwondo fighter Rohullah Nikpai, is a national hero after he won Afghanistan's only ever Olympic medal in Beijing four years ago.

His bronze medal in Beijing was a moment of national celebration, the like of which Afghanistan has all too few.

Rohullah will be competing in the -58kg category on 9 August. Everyone back in Afghanistan is counting on him.

Winning medals is becoming a habit for Rohullah. Last year, in the Taekwondo World Championships in Korea, he consolidated his position as one of the best in his sport with another bronze medal - proving his 2008 Olympic bronze was not just a stroke of luck.

I had met Rohullah three months ago in Afghanistan, but when I saw him again in London this week, he was changed - fitter than ever.

"I am very happy to finally arrive in London." he said. "My matches are very important and I don't want to underestimate them. But I am here to win gold, only gold."

Inspirational

Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, also a taekwondo fighter, will be competing on 10 August in the -80kg category. He has won several medals in the international scale for Afghanistan.

Sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is the only female athlete in the team, and in Afghanistan's conservative society she feels a particular responsibility to everyone back home.

"In the past, my main goal was just to attend the Olympics," she says. "But now I want to be an inspiration for other Afghan women and to tell the world that I am an Afghan girl."

She is hopeful that she will inspire other Afghan girls to get involved in sports.

Image caption Afghan-born Hila Wali, from west London, carried the torch through Hounslow on Tuesday

Afghans have also had a role to play in the Olympic torch relay.

Hila Wali, 23, from west London, carried the torch through Hounslow on Tuesday. She was born in Kabul, and like Tahmina she wants to challenge the image of Afghan women around the world.

"When I tell somebody that I am Afghan, their face drops," she says, "because they don't see me as an Afghan girl.

"What they see from the media is someone covered up, who can't talk properly, and what they see is that women don't have rights. So I challenge that picture."

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