London 2012: Tahmina Kohistani Plays, not as much for the gold medal as for the encouragement of Afghan girls.
For Tahmina Kohistani, the barely controlled chaos of London 2012 must seem positively serene compared to her life at home in Afghanistan, where her daily training sessions are conducted to a soundtrack of catcalls from hundreds of abusive men.
Whenever the sprinter trains for the 100 metres at Kabul Stadium, crowds soon appear to jeer and hurl insults at her and question why a woman would even think of taking to the track.
“The people don’t like women to play sport,” Kohistani explains matter-of-factly, leaning forward on her sofa in the athletes’ village cafe.
“The head of the Olympic Committee said no one could come during training but they did anyway. They wanted to disturb me all the time. They were saying ‘can we run with you? Why are you running? It is not good.’
"Some days no one turned up, other days there were 100 or 200 people.”
One day about a month ago the abuse reached a higher pitch than usual and her coach intervened. “What is your problem? Why are you disturbing my athlete?” he asked them. Then a brawl broke out.
It was too much for Kohistani who realised the men were right, her Olympic dream was madness.
“I just decided ‘I’m going to stop everything, I am not coming back to this stadium. I was faced with very dangerous people.”
But this submission did not last for long.
“Whenever you want to do something you are faced with some challenges and some problems,” she says.
“There is always one person who has started the way. I thought if I stopped maybe whenever the other girls come they would also get stopped. I should face up to this problem and change something in my society.”
This experience of ongoing warfare still colours Kohistani.
“Right now in my country every day there are bomb blasts, there is killing – it is very important for me to represent a country that has lots of problems like this.
"All the world thinks we just want war and we don’t do our best for peace but it’s not right. We need freedom, we love freedom.”
That is not the only message she hopes to deliver over the next fortnight. She is also determined to encourage more women to follow her out of the home.
“In Afghanistan, society for women is not good,” she says. “They don’t have time to think about themselves.
"All the time they just put their attention into their husband, their children, their house. I am going to do this for the women of Afghanistan.”
The other five, male, members of the country’s Olympics team have welcomed her, but even so, “sometimes when they are sitting together, I feel very absent because I am the only girl”. This is why she will not feel proud of competing in the Games until her country fields more than one woman.
Changing this, she says, is more important to her than winning a medal. Which is probably just as well, given that her personal best is 13.95sec and she qualifies for the Games under the International Olympic Committee’s universality programme to encourage more women to compete.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Women from the first graduating class of the Afghan National Army Female Officer Candidate School stand for the playing of the national anthem during their graduation ceremony, Sept. 23, 2010. Twenty-nine Afghan women completed 20 weeks of training, which included 8 weeks of basic training and 12 weeks of advanced training in logistics and finance.
A returnee from the Jalozai camp in Pakistan waits to have her son checked by a doctor at the UNHCR refugee transit centre in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. She is one of hundreds who have received medical assistance before continuing to Nangarhar province, where she will seek to rebuild her life after years in exile.