The long jumper’s big moment in the spotlight came as the Taliban let off fireworks to celebrate their return to Kabul
American Dallas Wise didn’t want to approach Afghan Hossain Rasouli, who escaped the fall of Kabul to compete at the Paralympics.
'Eerlik, we don’t really know the guy so we’re not going to talk to him,” said the long jumper. “I’m not sure if he can understand me. With a lot of countries here, I try to talk to him but sometimes they don’t really understand English.”
Rasouli greeted the Olympic Stadium with a smile and a wave, to the sound of total silence apart from the clicking of the shutters of every photographer who could gain entry.
His big moment came as the Taliban let off fireworks to celebrate their return to Kabul, with the last American plane having departed and their 20-year military presence now at an end.
The 26-year-old finished 13th and last in the T54 long jump, registering legal jumps of 4.37m, 4.21 and then 4.46 in the third round.
He waved to television cameras after the first and appeared frustrated after the third, posing for snappers at various points, with a thumbs-up, pointing to the name and nation on his vest. His best jump was 1.38m behind Sierra Leone’s Sorie Kargbo, who finished 12th, with the competition won by Cuba’s Robiel Sol Cervantes in a Paralympic record of 7.46m.
Organisers excused Rasouli from talking to media after his competition, and he did not walk through the mixed zone interview area that is typically mandatory for athletes. It seems athletes were either briefed, chose or chose not share any exchanges they had with Rasouli in the call room or on the runway, although organisers are encouraging him to mingle with other nations in the Village.
“We’re not saying ‘you shouldn’t just stay in your apartments and not go out,’” said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesperson Craig Spence. “We’re saying, once you’ve gone through your three-day quarantine, you need to fulfil this experience of being at the athletes’ village.’”
A major global operation plucked Rasouli out of Kabul and brought him here, via a week’s refuge in Paris at a French sports ministry training centre. What he saw on the way, we may never know.
He arrived in Tokyo, alongside female taekwondo player Zakia Khudadadi, in an ‘extremely emotional’ state on Saturday night. He twice tested negative for Covid-19 before departure and then again after touching down at Haneda Airport.
Rasouli’s left arm was amputated as the result of a mine explosion, and he played football for two years before taking up athletics in 2016.
He is a 100m sprinter but missed that event as a result of his delayed departure. He was then given a place in the 400m, which he rejected on the grounds it would be ‘pretty exhausting’.
Wise added: “I know he’s going through a lot of things right now with his country. I just pray for him and I hope he gets through everything. I hope he doesn’t really get into all that drama, I really hope he’s OK and he’s safe.
“I noticed him, but I didn’t really pay attention to him. I won’t say I didn’t care, but I’m just glad he’s here and that he escaped everything.”
Team USA silver medallist Roderick Townsend added: “With everything going on right now I couldn’t help but to feel joy for him. We get so caught up in our personal lives, and I am here complaining about a silver medal and (tog) we have somebody making their way across the world to be able to do something we all love to do.
“That says so much about what the Paralympic Games really means and what it stands for.”
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