x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The real Olympic spirit

They didn't win any medals, but Tahmina Kohistani, Zamzam Mohamed Farah and Sarah Attar are true Games heroes.

The standing ovations were deafening. The acclaim from generous crowds at the Olympic stadium was unanimous. For Tahmina Kohistani, Zamzam Mohamed Farah and Sarah Attar, London 2012 will live long in memory.

The three were little-known before the Games, and indeed few will recognise them even now. And Kohistani (running for Afghanistan in the 100 metres), Farah (for Somalia in the 400 metres) and Attar (for Saudi Arabia in the 800 metres) were all beaten, by some distance. In fact they all placed last in their respective heats.

They will care not one bit about that, for their triumph transcended records and podium finishes. In London each of these athletes became the first female to represent her country in an Olympic track and field event, smashing cultural stereotypes along the way. In many ways, their achievements are as important as those of Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt.

Major sporting events generate cynicism. Commercialisation, doping allegations and ticketing issues invariably surface, while budget issues and under-use of facilities often blight the aftermath.

But the modest exploits of Farah, Kohistani and Attar - and others like them - are a healthy antidote to cynicism, extending the real spirit to the women of three countries, and to us all.