August 5, 2008 / 12:17 AM / 9 years ago

Beauty's long journey from Bangladesh

SAVAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Nazmunnahar Beauty's journey to the Olympics is typical of her many fellow Bangladeshi athletes at the Beijing Games.

Orphaned as a child, Bangladesh's fastest woman was taken in by her next door neighbors and later encouraged into athletics by a coach who spotted her potential.

"I never thought of (the) Olympics. It's like a dream come true," said Beauty, who will participate in the 100 meters.

"It was a long struggle, but still I have no regret. I have got the opportunity to represent my country in an Olympics."

Beauty, like the other five members of the country's team, have made Beijing after struggling through abject poverty.

Swimmer Dolly Akthar, who competed at Sydney and Athens, learned to swim in ponds, while sprinter Abu Abdullah, placed his athletics career on hold to join the Bangladesh army and was a member of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast.

"I knew if I join the peacekeeping mission, I may be out of athletics forever," said Abdullah, who will also run the 100 meters.

"Still I had no choice as financially it was a huge reward."

Abdullah returned home in late 2007 in an effort to regain his fitness before Beijing and, like Beauty and Akhtar, was granted an International Olympic Council (IOC) wild card to ensure all member countries were represented at Beijing.

The South Asian country, whose only high-profile presence in world sports is through their cricket team, has competed at the Olympics since 1984, but not won a medal in world competition.

Bangladesh, which attained independence after a guerrilla war against Pakistani troops in December 1971, have had success at the regional South Asian Games and Bangladeshi athletes won Commonwealth gold medals in 1990 and 2002.

The real reward for the six athletes and seven officials, however, will come from marching behind their team's flag at Beijing's National Stadium on Friday.

"To become a sportsman in a country like Bangladesh is never easy," said athletics coach Nazrul Islam.

"You have no money and no other benefit, but only some honor. Becoming an Olympian is their highest honor."

(Writing by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china

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