In the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Iraq from competing at that summer’s events. They reasoned that the Iraqi government had too much influence over Iraq’s national Olympic committee, meaning the prospect of corruption was dangerously high.
That all seems a bit rich coming from the cabal of money grabbing apparatchiks and shills who make up the IOC, but there you go. Anyways, the Iraqi Olympic committee appealed the ban, a move that was ultimately successful.
Iraq received particular sympathy from the United States, whose open support for the Iraqi athletes who would have missed out potentially hastened the appeal’s passage. At the time, White House press secretary Dana Perino said: ‘I’m sure that the Iraqi athletes – who have trained so hard, and were finally going to represent a country that is free, and sovereign, and working to establish its democracy – they have to be terribly disappointed and I’m disappointed for the athletes as well.’
In the end, five of the seven athletes Iraq planned to send missed the deadlines to enter their competitions. Two athletes did eventually compete, one of whom was Dana Hussain, a 100 and 200 metre sprinter. Out of all seven, she was the only athlete who trained within the war-torn country, a precarious position made all the more grave by her initial reaction to the ban, when her coach attempted to console her by saying she could at least run in 2012.
‘Who can say I’ll even be alive in 2012?’
If you’re hoping for a story of a scrappy underdog defying the odds to emerge victorious – even in the face of political wrangling, of obstacles both mental and physical; a tale of giant killing and shock and ecstasy – then sorry, pal, but this isn’t the one for you.
Dana was knocked out in her first round heat after she placed sixth with a time of 12.36 seconds.
What? This ain’t Hollywood, bro. Come on.
Even so, we will now attempt to convince you that the story of Dana Hussain represents the true spirit of the Olympic games and sport in general. Sprinting, one could argue, is the athlete’s purest endeavour; a pursuit challenging a function so universal that to excel in it to an elite level is, in fact, more impressive that displaying a talent at something more specialised. Anyone can run, so to run better than almost anyone is truly amazing.
For one sprinter’s chance on the biggest stage to be robbed of her by the wranglings of political bureaucracy would be a tragedy. The fact she was ultimately given that chance proves sport transcends that sort of nonsense.
Which is, in a way, Hussain’s own little Olympic legacy. She carried it with her to London 2012, where she was given the honour of bearing her nation’s flag into the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony.