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August 17, 2004

First Time: Afghan Women Compete in Olympics

Welcome to civilization:

Can two demure teenagers be in the front line of a country's march forward? They intend to be, from a land where being a woman once met staying hidden in the burka, when she ventured outside at all.

``We were like female prisoners,'' Muqimyar said. ``That was just not my future, but the future of all Afghan women.''

That changed when the American-led attack - aimed at Al Qaida after 9/11 - drove out the Taliban. But at the time, as the bombs fell, she was a scared little girl. So when the fireworks went off at the Opening Ceremony, Robina Muquimyar's first instinct, honed by a childhood without safety, was to hide.

``I have bad memories,'' she said, ``of boom ... boom ... boom.''

One day, a group hoping to recruit young women to sport stopped by her school, asking if anyone wanted to run a race.

Robina was in sandals, long pants, a frock and black scarf. She took off her scarf, went to the starting line, and was ready.

``She wasn't that fast,'' said Stig Ingemar Traavik, a Norwegian who has helped build the Afghan Olympic team. ``But she came right away, and said `I am the best.'''

She's got spirit. On the other hand, she doesn't have speed (even at her personal best, she's three seconds off the pace for the 100m dash, which is sort of a lot, considering Olympians run it in ten seconds).

But that's hardly what matters.


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