BBC BLOGS - Matthew Pinsent

World's athletes dreaming of London 2012

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BBC Sport blog editor | 17:07 UK time, Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Over the last year it has been a real privilege to follow the journey of 26 athletes hoping to come to London to compete at next year's Games. Each story is unique, as is each athlete's prospects for next summer. Some will play a small part in their event, some will become Olympic champions but some will fail even to qualify.

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The World Olympic Dreams series has taken me to places I never imagined I would end up - Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind. Here are a few of my highlights so far:

Haider Rashid and Hamza Hussein - rowers from Iraq

Iraqi rowers Haider Rashid and Hamza Hussein are based on the Tigris river in Baghdad. They embody the Olympic spirit - they will make up a significant portion of the Iraq team should they qualify and yet they have very little chance of a medal. As I found out when I visited them last year, Haider and Hamza's recollections of having to row among floating corpses are arresting.

Jehue Gordon - 400m hurdler from Trinidad and Tobago

We met Jehue Gordon in Port of Spain at carnival time. He was not tempted by the partying, preferring to put in the hours on the track. Jehue often told us how grateful he was of our attention. Apparently, we were taking more interest in him than his local media were. They should buck up - he was fourth in the world at 18 and he is getting faster all the time. London 2012 may not be his time for gold but he is definitely one to keep an eye on over the next few years.

Usain Bolt - 100m sprinter from Jamaica

Usain Bolt is a global superstar and there isn't much left to say about him that has not been said countless times before - the world record times, the 'Lightning Bolt' dance and, of course, those chicken nuggets. We decided to take a look at what turned Bolt the boy into Bolt the fastest man on the planet - by hearing from his former sports teacher.

Rohullah Nikpai - taekwondo fighter from Afghanistan

I hadn't heard of Rohullah Nikpai before World Olympic Dreams. Shame on me. Rohullah, the taekwondo fighter, is a national icon in Afghanistan and is feeling a lot of pressure to repeat his 2008 bronze medal display. Now, more than ever, his country needs him.

Merlin Diamond and Achieng Ajulu-Bushell - sprinter from Namibia and swimmer from Great Britain

The joint travails of Merlin Diamond and Achieng Ajulu-Bushell. They don't know each other but both are in a similar pre-Games dilemma. Press forward with training for the Olympics or focus on school and a future career? It is difficult to watch them in such a tight spot.

Majlinda Kelmendi - judoka from Kosovo

Majlinda Kelmendi, a judoka from Kosovo will almost certainly have to fight under the flag of some country other than her own. Alternatively, she could represent the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself. Kosovo is not recognised by the IOC and probably won't be before the Games start. As we found out, if Majlinda wins a medal she won't be able to see Kosovo's flag on the pole. Nevertheless, Kosovo knows that she is a local hero.

Luol Deng - basketball player from Great Britain

Luol Deng is a massive British star you may not have heard of. He is one of the highest paid stars of America's NBA basketball league. He might be a superstar but sitting safe, rich and happy in Chicago was not really on his agenda. Luol Deng's trip to Sudan was a privilege to air. He had not seen the country from which he and his parents fled since he was a very young child. To see him go back, partly to fund a new start for some of Sudan's next generation, was awe-inspiring.

Best engine in the Boat Race

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Matthew Pinsent | 06:20 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

Of the 16 oarsmen preparing to compete in Saturday's Boat Race, Constantine Louloudis stands out.

The 19-year-old Londoner is not particularly tall at 1.9m (6ft 3in) or indeed heavy at 93kg (14st 9lb) but inside his frame is a good engine, as I found out recently when I watched him in testing.

There are lots of myths around physiology in rowing but, in short, you need to be able to do lots of work without putting in too much effort.

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Ready for a row in Baghdad

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Matthew Pinsent | 08:39 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

In the coming weeks, I will be off to Baghdad in pursuit of the two Iraqi rowers who are one of our 26 stories of athletes from around the world for World Olympic Dreams.

There are so many great stories and prospects involved in this series: some for their medal potential, some because they are brilliant story-tellers in their own right and some because of their setting.

Haider Rashid and Hamza Hussein are outsiders for a medal in the double scull in London in 2012 but they have done enough in the past to win Asian Games medals and will need to be on top form next year to gain Olympic qualification.

But of course any judgement about their potential has to be balanced by an appreciation of their circumstances. Their equipment might be on a par with the best teams in the world but the River Tigris runs through Baghdad, one of the most violent cities in the world. At times rival militias take pot-shots at each other across the water and there might be days when training is just too risky.

I have always known that an involvement with World Olympic Dreams would mean travelling to Iraq and, while it's a trip I'm relishing from a journalistic point of view it comes with some heavy baggage - literally.

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