Such a short distance, she thought. Just 100 more meters and it would all go away. The abuse: the men watching her train in Kabul, heckling her to go home, “to get behind the man” or the taxi driver who kicked her out of his cab when he found out she was training for the Olympics.
One more sprint of less than 15 seconds, this time in front of 60,000 people who boomed with applause as her name was called over the stadium’s loudspeaker, and Kohistani would complete the longest of journeys for the shortest of races.
“How is this possible?” someone had asked the only woman to represent Afghanistan in London.
For a moment before the starter’s gun went off, she thought hard on that.
How is this possible? How is someone from a war-ravaged country who trains in a dilapidated stadium, who can’t afford elite sprinter’s footwear allowed to be here, at the 2012 London Games?
How is a nation with remnants of radical Islamism, where a woman accused of adultery was shot to death by the Taliban an hour from the capital last month, able to produce an independent-thinking female athlete to compete against the world’s greatest sprinters?
When stars of their respective Olympics sports check their Facebook and Twitter accounts for messages of hope, encouragement or congratulations from fans and supporters back home and abroad, they usually feel instantly validated. Before it was removed, this was on Kohistani’s Facebook account Friday afternoon:
“You are shame to Muslim women. You don’t represent [them] you represent Tahmina.”
As much as she became a symbol of women’s empowerment — as much as Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sending female athletes to the Olympics for the first time had finally made these a genuine gender-inclusive Games — Kohistani knew: change comes agonizingly slow in parts of the Muslim world.
That’s it, it’s over, she told herself months ago, when her coach had to fight men outside the stadium in Kabul who told her not to run, that she was a bad Muslim woman. “I decide I am going to go home and I will never come back because the people is not ready to respect me,” she said.
But the moment passed. And Kohistani realized: deep in that slight frame lived not only a sprinter, but also a fighter. “I will continue. Someone should respond this way. And someone should take these problems and I am the one who is ready for the problem.”
So she ran. And ran. Because no one could make her believe churning her legs as fast as she could possibly make them go was against Allah and the Muslim faith, which she remains so devoted to she refused to compete without the hijab, especially during the holy season of Ramadan.
On the day she qualified for the Olympic games, she began to cry underneath her red, black and green scarf, cry for every little girl who was told not to run by her parents in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. She cried because those girls would never know the joy of moving with the wind in the middle of a dead sprint.