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Iraqi Olympians dodge violence and politics on the path to Beijing

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Still, Ms. Abdul-Razzaq, who says she does not even have proper running shoes, is undaunted.

"I just shut it all out and keep at it," says the feisty track star, her hair pulled back and several gold charms gleaming around her neck. "You see how horrible this track is – and I am not even allowed to use it."

Indeed, to train on the crumbling facilities at Baghdad University, which is in the relatively safer neighborhood of Jadriyah, Abdul-Razzaq's federation is supposed to pay a monthly subscription of 500,000 dinars ($416).

But it has repeatedly failed to do so. So every time Abdul-Razzaq and her coach come in, they get into a shouting match with the guards – who finally relent and let them in. She says her federation has not even given her needed foot gear and that she's not sure whether her coach, with whom she has been training for five years, will end up accompanying her to Beijing.

Last fall, she was assigned a coach she did not even know at the last minute to accompany her to a training camp in Turkey and then to the Pan-Arab Games, held in Cairo last November.

Abdul-Razzaq says the only way she coped was by remaining in touch with her coach, Yussif Abdul-Rahman, in Baghdad by cellphone.

Dodging sectarianism

In the old days, many athletes say, their greatest horror was that they might upset the head of the Olympic Committee – Saddam Hussein's son Uday – by not performing well or failing to win medals. Athletes were routinely bullied and threatened.

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