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A snowy end to Iraqi's quest

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- After successfully fighting bureaucratic indifference and a lack of funding, Iraqi skeleton slider Faisal Faisal found one condition impossible to overcome in his quest to become his country's first winter Olympian: snow.

Faisal narrowly missed qualifying for the Games yesterday at the Challenge Cup in Konigssee, Germany, an event for athletes from smaller nations. Twenty-nine competitors from 20 countries vied for eight spots.

After Saturday's two runs, Faisal was in 10th place. His first run yesterday pulled him up another position.

"I prepared for my last and decisive run and was about to give 1,000 percent," Faisal said in an e-mail. "I was very close to the next five athletes ahead of me and was very confident that I can beat all five over the last run to move up one nation and qualify."

But he had to deal with heavy snow in the track, a condition with which he was unfamiliar, and his time was 54.68 seconds, which dropped him to 24th place.

"It was God's will that I won't go," said Faisal, 25. "[I had] nothing to be proud of from my side, as I couldn't achieve my goal, but I accept God's decision."

It was only a year ago that the college student and soccer player showed up in Lake Placid, site of one of this country's two sliding tracks, in street clothes, hoping to learn how to slide face-first down an icy track on a tiny sled.

After watching the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Games on TV and noticing that his country wasn't represented, Faisal began a quixotic journey to be the first, trying skiing, skating and snowboarding before settling on skeleton.

But despite a decent showing in his rookie skeleton season, he received little support from his nation's fledgling Olympic committee and was forced to train on a shoestring budget.

There is still an outside chance that the International Olympic Committee will grant Faisal a wild-card entry, the same waiver that allowed several Iraqi athletes to participate in the 2004 Summer Games.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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