Rower earns first medal for Iraq




Haider Rashid is bracing himself for a media frenzy after he won Iraq's first medal at last months 2010 Asian Games.The Iraqi rower finished the men's single sculls five seconds behind gold medallist Bajran Takhar of India as Taiwan's Wang Ming-hui finished second.

"Two years ago, I told my friends that I would participate in the Olympic Games. They were surprised that there was such a sport in Iraq," Rashid said."The bronze medal has come at a good time," he continued.

Rashid is now preparing himself for the attention he expects to receive when he returns to Iraq: "I will be in the newspapers and on the TV back home, when people read the newspaper and watch TV, they'll start to know me and more importantly, start to know about rowing."

In the heats, Rashid completed the race in 7mins 12.02secs to finish second behind Uzbek rower Vladimir Chernenko but he improved his performance in the final to win the bronze in a time of 7 min 04.78 sec.

Heats winner Chernenko finished three seconds behind Rashid in the final.

In the final itself, Rashid was ahead of the Taiwanese rower Wang Ming Hui until the 1500m mark but Wang accelerated and finished the last 500m in just 1:46.30 to claim the silver."I'm so happy and excited because this is the first medal for Iraq at the Asian Games," he said. "This achievement will encourage young people in Iraq."We have trained in Baghdad. I think the training environment was quite good without much security concern," he said.

After Rashid's victory, Secretary General of Iraq's National Olympic Committee, Adel Ali, said his organisation was committed to providing better funding for sport in the country."Our country will invest more money to develop rowing and other sports as well. Nowadays, the environment for sports development is much better than before."He also hoped that Rashid's performance will encourage other Iraqi athletes.

"It's the first medal of the Iraq delegation in this games. I think the first is the best. That will encourage our Iraqi athletes to better performances in the competitions," Ali said.Iraq also competed in the men's four, finishing fifth in a race won by hosts China. One member of that team was Hamza Hussein, with whom Rashid competed at the Beijing Olympics in the double sculls.

Iraq's rowing success came after members of the Iraqi rowing squad spent a month preparing for the Asian Games in the United States. There they trained with members of the US rowing team, coached military veterans and competed in the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta.

At the 2006 Asia Games in Doha, Iraq won two silvers and one bronze including a much-celebrated silver medal in football.

The BBC

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