Afghan Paralympian beats the odds to compete in Tokyo
"It's the 'race of truth'. It's you against the clock, and trying to pick off your competitors."
TOKYO (AFP) - After a dramatic evacuation from Taliban-held Kabul and a secret operation to fly him to Tokyo, Afghan Paralympian Hossain Rasouli beat the odds on Tuesday to compete in the long jump.
It was not the event he had been expecting to contest, after qualifying for the 100m T47, but then just about everything in his world was turned upside down with the insurgents’ capture of his homeland.
After the Taliban overran the capital, he and fellow Afghan Paralympian Zakia Khudadadi found themselves trapped, with no way to get to Tokyo.
At first, it seemed their Paralympic dream was over. A Tokyo 2020 volunteer symbolically carried the Afghan flag during the Games opening ceremony, with no athletes on the ground to take part.
Over the weekend though, officials revealed the Afghan pair had been successfully flown out of the country.
After a stop in Dubai, they were taken to Paris and spent a week at the French sports ministry’s high-performance training centre before flying to Tokyo, where they arrived on Saturday evening.
The pair are being kept away from the media, with the International Paralympic Committee saying the athletes needed space to focus on their sport.
But IPC spokesman Craig Spence said Tuesday that Rasouli was “super excited to be competing today”.
The Afghan emerged from the athletes’ entrance on Tuesday with a wave to team officials dotted around the mostly empty Olympic Stadium.
Rasouli, whose left hand was amputated as the result of a mine explosion, then proudly pointed towards the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee logo on his vest.
The 26-year-old finished last, reflecting his comparative inexperience in the discipline -- it was his first time taking part in long jump in a major competition.
Still, Spence said, “it was great to see him” on what was “a very special occasion”.
Khudadadi will compete in taekwondo on Thursday.
Elsewhere, there was joy for British cycling great Sarah Storey, who won the C5 road time trial at Fuji International Speedway to equal swimmer Mike Kenny’s all-time British Paralympic Games record of 16 gold medals.
“I’ve been preparing for this race for such a long time. The time trial is probably one of my favourite events,” she said afterwards.
“It’s the ‘race of truth’. It’s you against the clock, and trying to pick off your competitors as you see them.”
Storey, who was born without a functioning left arm, has broken 76 world records and shows no sign of slowing down.
The 43-year-old competes next in Thursday’s road race, where she will have the chance to break Kenny’s record, though she said she was not making any assumptions.
“Road races are so unpredictable,” Storey said.
“So Thursday morning I’ll come out and try to have some fun and see which way the cookie crumbles.”
On a day with 61 golds up for grabs across five sports, there was heartbreak for “armless archer” Matt Stutzman, the American who is one of the world’s most recognisable Paralympians.
He missed out on a medal in the men’s compound open class on Tuesday when he fell in the last 16, beaten 143-137 by Slovakia’s Marcel Pavlik.
The 2015 world champion was well below his best at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field and failed to make it to the quarter-final for the second successive Paralympics, having fallen at the same stage in Rio.
The medals will be decided later Tuesday.