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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.

Matthew Pinsent taking part in Hostile Environments training

I'm undergoing a cheery course that the BBC insists on, called "Hostile Environment and First Aid Training". It is a hands-on, and occasionally sobering, round-up of all the things you need to know before stepping off a plane into a country where safety is far from certain.

When I last did a first aid course we covered such topics as how to deal with burns in the kitchen and how to bandage a sprained ankle. This version deals with spurting (fake) blood and what to do if gangrene sets in. (In time we'll feature the training on the World Olympic Dreams website).

Plenty of people moan at the health-and-safety ethos that envelops most of our modern working lives but trust me when I say I want to be very healthy and very safe on this one.

I will be fitted for a blue helmet and flak jacket, and be accompanied on the trip by friendly ex-military chaps who all seem to be called Bob and Steve, who seldom talk about their CVs and who - if they ever say "OK, time to go" - won't find me replying: "Can I have just one more try at that piece to camera?"

There continues to be healthy discussion in the Pinsent household about the merits of the trip. The risks, the rewards and the balance between them are hard to quantify at several thousand miles' distance.

But throughout the planning I am convinced that the story is amazing. The UK is trying to stage an event worthy of the efforts of thousands of athletes the world over.

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The BBC's Andrew North caught up with Haider Rashid and Hamza Hussein in Baghdad earlier this year

Meanwhile, Haider and Hamza are getting up every morning, dreaming of a chance to compete for their country, in a rowing boat, in a country far away - that is something that I know about all too well.

They are doing it without the benefit of body armour, bodyguards or an air ticket out of the country should the situation change suddenly. That in itself is the strongest rationale for going to see them.

If you have a question that you would like me to put to them - or indeed a message of support - then post it here and I'll take it with me when the time comes.

Wish me, but more particularly them, luck.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is a really inspiring story, I find it hard to get up in the morning to go and do my training, so I am really impressed by these two guys getting up and training in their situation. I'd love to know if they got to the final what would be the inspiration they would use to push for a medal.

  • Comment number 2.

    2 or 3 times a week!? That's a hobby not a profession.

  • Comment number 3.

    Matt, when you get there you better let them know training 2 to 3 times a week ain’t going to cut it. I’m 50 and train 6 times a week in the off season – perhaps I should look for some distant Faroe Island heritage and have a go myself!

    Good luck to both the rowers and yourself ... keep your noggin down.

  • Comment number 4.

    Matt, this really is one episode of World Olympic Dreams that I am looking forward to. I would imagine that Haider and Hamza's drive may be all the greater for what their country has been through over the past few years.

    I would like to point out to Cheese and Gusski that Haider said that the pair of them use the rowing machines (ergometers) 2 to 3 times weekly. I am sure their training involves other activities including gym-work and many hours on the water. It is also important to remember they will only need to peak just prior to an event and dependent on the time of year and the phase of training, they may use the ergo to varying degrees.

    Good luck to everyone involved!

  • Comment number 5.

    Wonderful article, we will all be looking out for them in 2012. A great idea to showcase athletes who have to train in such challenging conditions, it just illustrates how out of touch with reality our sad pampered footballers are (I won't mention our Bankers).

    Perhaps the BBC should approach FIFA to ask them to set up a fund to help these athletes by taking a percetage of all the wages of footballers and football officials (including the bloated FIFA guys) who earn over a certain amount. In these time such gestures would mean a great deal. Could try Bankers as well, but they seem to be beyond redemption.

  • Comment number 6.

    I would imagine they do most of their training on the river.
    In all fairness if I could persuade my coach that it was ok I would only use an erg 2 or 3 times a week.


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