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Iraqi Olympic Hopefuls Arrive in Colorado to Start Training

Washington - Iraqi Greco-Roman wrestlers Muhammed Mohammed and Ali Salman arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 2 to begin an intensive training program with U.S. wrestlers and coaches in the hopes of participating in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

This training opportunity is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to provide training opportunities for the Iraqis.

Under the supervision of their coach, Jamal Hasson, the Iraqi athletes will pursue a full regimen of training and competition with current members of the U.S. Greco-Roman Wrestling Team and former Olympic champions.

"The United States Olympic Committee is proud to be a part of the collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of State, the International Olympic Committee and USA Wrestling to further the development of sport in Iraq," said USOC Chief Executive and Chief of Sport Performance Jim Scherr.

"The opportunity to host wrestlers from Iraq and their coach reflects the Olympic ideals of peace, understanding and inclusion through sport," he added.

USOC officials hope that the Iraqi wrestlers will be able to participate in the Titan Games in Atlanta, Georgia, June 18 to 20. The Olympic torch is scheduled to pass through the city at that time.

The wrestlers have not yet qualified to compete in the 2004 Olympics. According to Greg Harney, managing director of international affairs for the USOC, the wrestlers must either qualify based on their own merit as demonstrated in qualifying competitions or receive one of the four wild card invitations that the International Wrestling Federation has at its disposal.

In a recent interview with the Washington File, Harney said that the Greco-Roman wrestlers have a reasonable chance of qualifying on merit in light of their good showing at the 2003 World Championships.

Two Iraqi athletes thus far have qualified for the Athens Games. Raad Abbas Rasheed will compete in the Korean martial art, Tae Kwan Do, and Al'aa Hikmet plans to compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter races of the track and field events.

The CPA announced that the National Olympic Committee of Iraq (NOCI) also hopes to send competitors from the men's Under-23 National Soccer team, a boxer, a weightlifter, a male swimmer, a male sprinter and a wrestler.

Upon the initial announcement that the Iraqi wrestlers would be invited to train in the United States, NOCI director Ahmed Al Samarrai said, "The offer to support the training of an Iraqi team will go a long way towards restarting the competitors of our programs to returning pride to the Iraqi people."

During an April 2 ceremony in Baghdad for the unveiling of the Iraqi Olympic Team's new logo, CPA Administrator Paul Bremer noted that the United States is providing $10 million to the development of sports programs in Iraq and an additional $3 million to refurbish Baghdad's Al Shaab Stadium.

"The recent success of the Iraqi Olympic Movement is a clear indication that the people of Iraq have tremendous pride in their national identity and their ability to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world's greatest athletes on the Olympic stage. We are proud of them and wish them great success, under their new logo, in Athens," Bremer said.

By David Shelby Washington File Staff Writer


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