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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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Matthew,

    I have a great deal of respect for you and am therefore hoping that you will have the answers to my questions.

    I am wondering why it is that country's take pride in their elite athletes? In this day and age of professional athletics, all competitors have trained every waking moment and devoted their lives to their sport. So it would appear that the gold medals are now destined to be won by whichever of the competitors had the original (and random) genetic advantage to begin with. Why, as a country, should we be proud that we currently happened to be able to count the tallest, springyist high-jumper among our population?

    Surely what a country could really take pride in would be the health and fitness level of it's general population?

    There is little evidence to show that funding elite sport is effective in promoting the health and fitness of the general public, in fact the opposite has been demonstrated (that there is no correlation between elite spending and public health and fitness). So why is money being spent on elite sport instead of schools or community facilities?

    To demonstrate this point I would like to propose a real people olympics, in which the competitors are drawn at random from the 18-35 years old subsection of the general population of each country. An annual event of this nature would draw attention to the really important issues underlying sport and health and it would also be refreshing to see the likes of America propping up the bottom of the medal table.


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