Afghan Tahmina Kohistani was by some distance the slowest runner in the Olympic women's 100 metres preliminary round on Friday but it was a 14.42-second triumph given the obstacles she had overcome just to be in London.
The only woman athlete from her war-ravaged country to compete in the Olympics, Kohistani said she had encountered fierce opposition from conservatives in her home city of Kabul but called on other Afghan women to follow her lead.
"I faced a lot of challenges in my training for the London Olympics," the 23-year-old, who raced in a head scarf decorated with her national colours, told reporters.
"One day I was coming to the stadium and the taxi driver asked me where I was going. I said and 'I am training, I am going to London Olympics' and he said 'get out of the cab, I don't want to take you there'."
Kohistani was constantly harrassed while training, she said, and her coach had to spend a lot of time fighting with a particular group of men who abused her at the stadium in Kabul.
"Whenever I train there's a lot of people who want to disturb me," she said.
"They say 'just leave these things, it's not good for Afghan females to do these things'."
Kohistani's time was the slowest in the preliminary round, which is being run for the first time at the Olympics this year to weed out no-hopers before the heats.
Nearly four seconds slower than Florence Griffith-Joyner's world record of 10.49, it was nonetheless an improvement on Kohistani's personal best, which had stood at 15 seconds.
"I'm feeling good," she said. "I did my best to have a medal but I can't.
"I'm saying sorry to my people for my achievement but I think my best achievement is for me to represent Afghanistan as the only female athlete.
"I think that's more important than a gold medal."
Kohistani said she was aiming to return to the Olympics at the next Games in Rio in 2016 but was hoping not to be alone.
"I have a message for the women of Afghanistan," she said.
"Come and join Tahmina because I need your support.
"We must be ready for the next Olympics, we should have more athletes in the next Olympics.
"I'm going to do my best to be in Brazil, I am going to give reason for other athletes to follow my way."
Noor Hussain Al-Malki, Qatar's first female Olympian, was the only athlete below Kohistani in the time sheets as she failed to finish the event having pulled up injured.
"If someone's injured then they are injured," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams.
"She is here and she is competing. That is what matters."
Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, a Saudi judoka, also made a brief but significant appearance at the London Games on Friday, the first woman from her nation to compete.
"I think we should be celebrating today because we had two athletes from two of three countries who had never sent women athletes to the Games," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
"It is a great message for those countries."
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|Timothy V. Gatto|