Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

99. Dana Hussein Abdul-Razzaq

Age: 21

She was a long shot, and she knew it. But five years into a sprinting career started and developed through war and sectarian strife, surely 21-year-old Dana Hussein Abdul-Razzaq deserved that chance to compete in Beijing. It's a shame she won't — on July 24 the IOC decided Iraq wasn't welcome in Beijing because of the government's "serious interference" with the country's Olympic affairs. Essentially, the Shiite-heavy government dissolved the Sunni-dominated National Olympic Committee.

In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Dana never got a chance to run. Her parents were too scared to let her anywhere near sports, a field controlled by the dictator's ruthless son Ouday — known for torturing athletes who underperformed. So when the U.S. invaded in 2003, Dana laced up her sneakers and took to the track. Since then, she's dodged more than just tufts of grass on the crushed 1980s concrete that serves as her training ground. Threats, checkpoints, and very real bullets have been just three of the obstacles. And with her trainer, a Sunni, (she's a Shiite), she has also sprinted improbably past three brutal years of sectarian killings. One of only two Iraqis to compete in track and field this summer, Hussein is proud and determined to represent Iraq, despite the odds. Still, her dreams extend beyond the medals. Says Hussein: "Sports can unify the Iraqi people — no Sunnis, no Shiites, just sport for the country."