Hala Gezah, Libya's only female competitor in the London 2012 Olympic Games
Hala Gezah, Libya's only female competitor in the London 2012 Olympic Games is pictured during an interview near the Olympic Park in east London, on August 9. © Carl Court - AFP/File
Hala Gezah, Libya's only female competitor in the London 2012 Olympic Games
Beatrice Debut, AFP
Last updated: August 11, 2012

Dream comes true for Libya's only woman competitor in the Olympics

The revolution disrupted her training but Hala Gezah's "childhood dream" of competing in an Olympics came true as the only Libyan woman at the 2012 London Games competed in the 100 metres.

Last year the 23-year-old's sessions on a Tripoli track were thrown into disarray by the overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi; now she is posing for pictures with Olympics legend Usain Bolt.

"In 2008 we could practise as normal, but with the revolution it was very difficult. Training was virtually non-existant," said her coach Abdullah Zaho, wearing a top in the red, black and green of Libya's new rulers.

"We were afraid," he told AFP.

"We had lots of problems, above all because there was no communication between us and the local federation, and the Libyan Olympic Committee had no money.

"That made our task difficult."

The committee was run by Mohamed Kadhafi, one of the ousted ruler's sons.

Before the London Games, Gezah had taken part in only one race this year, at the biennial African athletics championships in Benin. She did not meet the minimum requirement to reach the 2012 Olympics.

However, the International Olympic Committee's principle of universal participation means every country can enter somebody into the athletics and swimming.

On August 3, in the Olympic Stadium, the wildcard finished fifth out of nine in her heat in a time of 13.24 seconds, clocking the 23rd fastest time out of the 33 that took part in the preliminary round.

"I could have done better," she admitted to AFP.

"But I'm honoured to be the first female athlete to wear the colours of the new Libyan flag."

Her coach added: "We truly represent Libya as it is now."

Gezah, a computer science student, is one of four Libyan athletes competing at the London 2012 Games. The Libyan flag can be seen proudly hanging off balconies in the athletes' village, in the flats just opposite the Basketball Arena.

Taking part in the Olympics means a lot to Gezah, a shy woman who stands 1.69m (5ft 7ins) tall.

Her late father, an amateur footballer, encouraged her throughout her youth. On making it to London, she was deeply moved by the thought that he would have been proud of her.

To give herself the best chance of a competitive performance, Gezah did not observe Ramadan at the start of the Games.

"It's too hard to fast and train at the same time, especially as the summer days are so long here," said Gazeh, whose mid-length, jet-black hair frames her face.

But "now my race is over, I'm fasting", she said.

She is also making the most of her free time to do some shopping, buying some giant headphones, make-up and souvenirs for her family.

"I've spent the best days of my life here at the Olympics," she said, without hesitation.

"I've had the chance to meet the greatest champions," she said, including Jamaican sprint star Bolt, who defended his 100m and 200m Olympic titles.

Bolt posed for pictures with her in the Olympic Village canteen.

Now she dreams of going to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

And she made the following pledge.

"I promise the Libyan people that next time, we will have athletes on the podium."

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