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Afghan woman sprinter sends message of defiance at Asian Games

Afghanistan's Kimia Yousofi reacts after the women's 100m heats athletics event during the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province on September 29, 2023. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

Sprinter Kimia Yousofi said she was “here to represent Afghan girls” as she competed at the Asian Games on Friday in defiance of the Taliban.

Yousofi, who resettled in Australia last year after fleeing persecution in her homeland, is one of 14 women athletes listed in Afghanistan’s team in Hangzhou.

“The most important thing for me is to represent our girls in Afghanistan,” she said.

The other Afghan women are competing in volleyball and cycling, and like Yousofi have built new lives for themselves around the world.

Women’s sport in Afghanistan was effectively banned by the Taliban when they returned to power in 2021.

That meant no women travelling from Afghanistan in the delegation of more than 120 competitors, coaches and supervisors.

But with the help of overseas sports bodies, foreign-based Afghan women are taking part.

The 27-year-old Yousofi, who carried Afghanistan’s flag at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, competed in the first round of the women’s 100m in Hangzhou.

And although she finished last in her heat, she said there was a bigger meaning at play — “here to represent Afghan girls who don’t have permission for education and sports”.

When asked to send them a message, she replied: “Work on themselves.

“That means read books, everything they need for themselves personally.”

Wearing a black headscarf and pink running shirt, Yousofi ran a time of 13.32sec.

That was almost two seconds behind heat winner Hajar Alkhaldi of Bahrain, but just 0.03sec short of her personal best.

Yousofi said the atmosphere in the stadium was “amazing”.

“The people are amazing and they give us very high energy,” said Yousofi, who will also compete in the 200m heats on Sunday.

Yousofi was resettled in Australia in August last year, the culmination of a year’s work by foreign sports officials trying to help Afghans with ties to the Olympic movement.

Olympic officials said they would have faced significant risks had they remained in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s women’s volleyball team begin their Asian Games campaign against Kazakhstan on Saturday.

Gong wins gold again 

In women’s shot put, China’s Gong Lijiao took gold with a best throw of 19.58m — the 34-year-old’s third Asiad gold in a row.

“I am very happy about it. I feel like the competition is getting tougher and I am now more than 30 years old, but I was still able to win the gold medal again,” said the Olympic champion.

Teammate Song Jiayuan was second and India’s Kiran Baliyan third.

The host nation claimed more gold when Wang Zheng won the women’s hammer throw.

The Olympic silver medallist had a best throw of 71.53m to finish ahead of compatriot Zhao Jie and South Korea’s Kim Tae-hui.

Bahrain’s Violah Motosio won the women’s 10,000m in a time of 31min 43.73sec. Japan’s Ririka Hironaka was second ahead of Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui of Kazakhstan.

Earlier in the day, China’s Zhang Jun became the first athletics gold medallist of the Hangzhou Games when he won the men’s 20km race walk ahead of compatriot Wang Zhaozhao and Japan’s Yutaro Murayama.

China’s Yang Jiayu came out on top in the women’s event, beating countrywoman Ma Zhenxia and Japan’s Nanako Fujii.

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