Hossain Rasouli has been on the move for the last one week. First from the interiors of Kabul to the city’s international airport, amid a sea of gun-wielding Taliban commandos. Then, flying to Dubai and Paris. On August 28 (Saturday), the para-athlete from Afghanistan managed to reach Tokyo aboard a top-secret flight to compete in the ongoing Paralympics.
He was to run the 100m in the T47 class, but had arrived too late for that. It seemed his Paralympic dream was over. The organisers gave him a shot of hope and offered a shot at long jump (T47 class). Rasouli agreed to compete; he practised for just 90 minutes on Monday night before entering the highly competitive long jump T47 event alongside athletes from the United States, China and Russia.
While competing, Rasouli greeted the National Stadium in Tokyo with a smile and a wave. He posed for photographers with a thumbs up, pointing to the name and nation on his vest. His best jump was 4.46m (a personal best) and finished last in the 13-man competition. It was more than a metre less than the athlete who finished 12th, while the winning jump was 7.46m by Cuba’s Robiel Sol Cervantes.
The long jump isn’t even Rasouli’s event, it’s his participation that has drawn awe and respect from everyone. “With everything going on right now, I couldn’t help but feel joy for him,” fellow long jumper Roderick Townsend, who won the silver in the event, said. “We get so caught up in our personal lives, and I’m here complaining about a silver medal. And we have somebody making his way across the world to be able to do something that we all love to do.”
American long jumper Dallas Wise, who finished fourth, said, “I know he is going through a lot of things right now, and I hope he gets through everything.”
A “major global operation”, as the Games chiefs call, plucked Rasouli out of Kabul to Tokyo. “This was a really complex situation, one of the most complex we’ve ever been involved in,” International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesperson Craig Spence stated.
There were several international agencies involved in evacuating Rasouli and his teammate Zakia Khudadadi – who will compete in the taekwondo competition later this week – from Kabul. Primarily, the IPC and Paralympic GB (the national Paralympic committee for Great Britain) were involved along with active assistance from the Australian military. The duo was smuggled out in a dramatic manner. They were taken to the Kabul airport remotely using shared GPS devices, and were asked to use bright scarves so that they could be identified by the military forces inside the airport. They were asked to hide their papers and money in inner wears.
The participation at the Paralympics doesn’t stop the overwhelming feeling of grief though. Rasouli doesn’t want to see further bloodshed. His left arm was amputated as the result of a mine explosion.
Rasouli and Zakia aren’t interacting with the media as of now, but the news of the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on August 26 did reach them. They know there are still thousands who are trapped in the country, waiting to be rescued. They narrowly made their way out in the nick of time.