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Olympic mettle: athletes who overcame barriers to get to London

For some Olympians, the struggle to qualify for the 2012 Games may be as notable as what will happen there.

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A Costa Rican runner laces up for a training session.

Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

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One is a marathoner who, until four years ago, had never heard of the Olympics and was forced to borrow running shoes to compete in local races in the malevolent mountains of Peru. Another is a middle-distance runner from Somalia who used to have to avoid sniper fire while training along the "road of death" in Mogadishu. A third is a young weightlifter from Iran, built like a cask, who carries the pride of a nation quarreling with the West on his stevedore shoulders.

While most people who watch the London Olympics will be following the marquee names and story lines – swimmer Michael Phelps's quest for medal immortality, sprinter Usain Bolt's defiance of the limits of human speed, the next queen of gymnastics – many other athletes will provide notable narratives for what they have accomplished just to get to the Games.

Many of these are people you've never heard of, who nonetheless may end up on a podium with medals and a lifetime of dreams draped around their necks. Others will remain anonymous, known only to loyal followers in their home countries. But all come with powerful stories of having overcome great adversity or carrying additional burdens just to compete on the oval tracks and padded mats of London.

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