Afghan Paralympian Hossain Rasouli's presence in Tokyo brings 'joy' to fellow athletes

Rasouli and teammate Zakia Khudadadi were not initially expected to compete at the Games before they were evacuated from Afghanistan

Afghan Paralympian Hossain Rasouli made his Tokyo Paralympics appearance on Tuesday and his presence in the long jump competition provided a heavy dose of perspective for fellow athlete Roderick Townsend.

The American did not even know Rasouli was competing in the men's T47 long jump final until he saw 13 names on the start list rather than the usual 12.

Rasouli arrived in Tokyo last Saturday, too late to compete in his favoured T47 100m event, after catching a secret flight from Paris one week after being evacuated from Kabul. Instead, he entered the long jump final, finishing last but symbolising for Townsend "so much about the Paralympic Games and what it means and what it stands for".

"With everything going on right now, I couldn't help but feel joy for him," said Townsend, who took silver in the event with a jump of 7.43m.

"We get so caught up in our personal lives, and I'm here complaining about a silver medal and we have somebody making their way across the world to be able to do something that we all love to do."

Rasouli arrived in Tokyo with Afghan teammate Zakia Khudadadi on Saturday, after leaving their Taliban-controlled homeland a week earlier in what Games chiefs called a "major global operation".

After a stop in Dubai, the pair spent a week in Paris at a French sports ministry training centre following their evacuation from Kabul. Their arrival came after Afghanistan's swift fall to the Taliban earlier this month left them among the tens of thousands unable to leave the country.

At the Paralympics opening ceremony, the Afghan flag featured in symbolic fashion, carried by a Japanese volunteer, and officials initially appeared to rule out the possibility of the athletes coming to Tokyo.

But Rasouli, whose left hand was amputated after a mine explosion, finally made the country's belated first appearance at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday morning.

Emerging from the athletes' entrance with a wave to the team officials dotted around the Olympic Stadium, he then pointed towards the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee logo on his white vest.

Taking a noticeably shorter run-up than the other athletes, he recorded jumps of 4.37, 4.21 and 4.46 – far from medal contention and more than a metre less than his nearest rival.

International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said Rasouli had done long jump previously, but was competing in the event for the first time "in a major competition".

"He was super excited to be competing today," said Spence. "I have to say it was great to see him on TV."

Rasouli left the stadium without speaking to reporters, and officials have said neither Afghan Paralympian will speak to press in Tokyo despite huge interest in their story.

Still, Townsend said Rasouli's presence "wasn't a distraction at all".

"It's not a big deal to anybody – we're here to compete, we keep politics out of it," he said. "We're here to jump, and when he's out there jumping with us, we're all having fun."

The event was won by Cuba's Robiel Yankiel Sol Cervantes with a Paralympic-record jump of 7.46.

Khudadadi will make her first appearance in the women's taekwondo K44 -49kg category on Thursday.

After Tuesday's competition, American long jumper Dallas Wise, who finished fourth, said he was aware of Rasouli's presence.

"It really wasn't a distraction, but it was like 'Oh my God, that's the guy who almost couldn't be here'," said Wise. "I know he's going through a lot of things right now, and I hope he gets through everything."

Golden Storey levels Kenny record

Elsewhere, there was joy for British cycling great Sarah Storey, who won the C5 road time trial at Fuji International Speedway to equal swimmer Mike Kenny's all-time British Paralympic Games record of 16 gold medals.

"I've been preparing for this race for such a long time. The time trial is probably one of my favourite events," she said. "It's the 'race of truth'. It's you against the clock, and trying to pick off your competitors as you see them."

Storey, who was born without a functioning left arm, has broken 76 world records and shows no sign of slowing down The 43-year-old competes next in Thursday's road race, where she will have the chance to break Kenny's record, though she said she was not making any assumptions.

"Road races are so unpredictable," Storey said. "So Thursday morning I'll come out and try to have some fun and see which way the cookie crumbles."

Updated: August 31st 2021, 8:30 AM
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