IraqNet Information Network – 2004-03-29 10:39:08
BAGHDAD — Her Olympic dreams were put on hold 24 years ago when Saddam Hussein’s regime forced her to become a swimming coach and lifeguard at one of the dictator’s presidential compounds.
Now that Saddam is gone, Hamdiya Ahmed al-Sammak has taken up her athletic career again, training in the javelin throw five days a week despite daunting odds. She won’t say her age but is apparently in her early 50s. Al-Sammak is also blind in one eye and has a throwing arm that was broken in 1990 and never set properly.
She still holds the national women’s record for the javelin and has won medals at home in swimming, running, equestrian, discus and hammer throw. She represented Iraq twice abroad, winning two gold medals and two silvers during the Arab Games in Libya in 1975, and competed in the 1979 Asian Games in Thailand.
A 1980 visit by officials from the Ministry of Youth, which was in charge of sports, changed everything. Al-Sammak was ordered to work at a swimming pool at a presidential compound in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Radwaniyah.
“I refused for two weeks. Then the order came: ‘If you don’t come with us we will execute you,’ ” Al-Sammak said.
Her main task was teaching the wives and daughters of senior officials how to swim.