From Thames to Tigris World Olympic Dreams

From Thames to Tigris

Four-times Olympic Gold medallist Matthew Pinsent travels to Baghdad to meet two Iraqi rowers with dreams of competing at London 2012.

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World Olympic Dreams. He trap -- Matthew Pinsent travels to Baghdad


hoping to speak to Iraqi hopefuls MUSIC PLAYS # A little bird told me


that you love me That you love me # And I believe that you do I believe


# This little bird told me I was fallin' Really fallin' # Fallin'


for no-one but you No-one but you # There's no use denyin' # I might as


well confess # Of all the boys I know, dear # I'm sure I love you


best # The little bird... # Henley Royal Regatta. The world's oldest


rowing race, held every year on the Thames over a mile and 550 yards


It is in many ways the epitome of the sport of gentlemen. The world's


fastest rowers battling it out in front of the wealthiest sporting


crowds. A showcase event for a sport that Britain has come to


But that success does not come easy. Today's generation of elite rowers


spend hour after hour doing this. The funding is immense, some �27


million has been poured into the sport in pursuit of a gold at


London 2012. It is going to be so close! And I know how that pays off.


Moments I can ever forget. A whole country tuned in to see British


rowing holding its head high, again It is clear watching the current


crop of athletes that not much has changed. The equipment, the


dedication, all too familiar. The London Olympics is motivating


hundreds of athletes to do things So when the chance came as part of


the World Olympic Dreams series to follow the lives of athletes around


the world, I could not resist tracking down some kindred spirits.


So we set about trying to find two rowers training somewhere in the


world to come to the London Olympics. What I had not banked on


is exactly where they lived. But it was not a hard choice to


make. I had to meet the Iraqi rowers, Haider Rashid and Hamza


Before I set off, I had to go under intensive training for hostile


On the way into town from the airport, I was given a quick lesson


in Baghdad reality. The road where we are now used to be the most


dangerous road in the world. Some sobering thoughts about the bad


times in Baghdad. We are still coming here and training and we saw


bodies in the river. And to top it Baghdad - a city of some 7 million


people. Plagued by war for decades. At its heart, one of the ancient


rivers of the world, the Tigris. Flowing from the mountains in


Turkey until it merges with the Euphrates at Basra and then out


into the Gulf. 1,800 kilometres from source to the sea, it brings


life and greenery to the heartland The river has been a constant in


It is supposed to be the acid test of a rower, that you cannot look


out on a piece of water without thinking what it would be like to


row on that. There might be litter everywhere, helicopter gunships,


but from a rowing point of view, Recent times have seen such trauma


and chaos for this country. The young here have grown up knowing


little but war and it shows in the So when that Saddam Hussein statue


came down, I was probably on training camp in Italy watching it


on television, a year away from the Athens Olympics. Life for me since


has moved in lots of different directions but never for one moment


did I think I would be standing In the heart of the English


countryside, a stately venue for a We are just going in, we need to be


quiet now. Stop. Stop. Journalists wanting to venture into war zones


are put through their paces on a course. Hostile environment and


first aid training. We enact the worst possible scenarios. Dodging


imaginary gun fire and treating the This might look contrived but it


feels all too real. There's a new bomb out called the magnetic bomb.


Craig Summers is the person you turn to in the BBC if you're


heading somewhere dodgy. We met up for a last minute briefing. As you


can see, the yellow spots on the map are incidents. OK. How recent


are they? That is in the past week. Week? Yes. Some of these happen and


you will not even know they have happened. But you will hear


explosions at night or during the day. Small arms fire every now and


again. So it is part and parcel of going to Baghdad. This is an extra


large flak jacket. It does up at the side. It weighs about 10 kilos.


A quick visit to see Emma in the news-gathering safety stores for


some vital equipment. You'll need a I'm pleased to say that that was


the last time I put my flak jacket on. From the moment I arrived in


Baghdad it stayed in the car, but This road you're on now used to be


the most dangerous road in the world. But the Americans have gone


and the interchanges are now manned by the Iraqi police. All along the


central reservation there used to be palm trees. Then when the


Americans came in, they chopped the My first taste of Baghdad traffic.


I'm here to meet Hamza Hussein, a quarter of the whole Iraqi team at


the Beijing by Olympics. He and his partner, Haider Rashid, competed in


the double sculls. Nice to meet you. You had the Asian Games, and now


what is next? Now Egypt, the Arabic games. We're off to the Baghdad


Rowing Club, a place I have been imagining for months and now I'm


about to see for the first time. It should be a ten-minute journey, but


this is Baghdad. It is slow to drive. Every day in this city, jam


after jam. Road blocks and checkpoints. A convoy of huge


American armoured vehicles does not help move things along. This city


gets you nowhere fast. But it did give us time to compare rowing


calluses. Six years - gone. Just Haider Rashid had a better idea. He


is 27 and bikes his way every day from Baghdad University to the


river. The distant sound of gunfire You train here every day? Every day.


Meeting with these guys and the other rowers, we soon find a common


issue. Fitting new sculling grips is a pain whether on the Tigris or


the Thames. The last bit is always What happened here? I crashed! Hit


the bottom! The Baghdad boat house is much like any other around the


world. It may lack a few bells and whistles but at its heart it is a


It is an unavoidable fact that if you put three rowers together, it


doesn't take long before they start discussing weights. We call it a


pull-down, a lap pull-down. 300 kilos for this, plus this, plus


this. Full-time for the weights? The wars here meant that neither


had rowed until quite late on. When they started out, the club could


barely afford the oars, never mind the boats they now have. So getting


to Beijing was more than half the battle. They wrote about us that we


were rowing for the first time in the Olympic Games. Just two


athletes. One runner and the other through this. So we're just four


from Iraq. And was the Olympics everything you thought it was going


to be? We had imagined something and to see it was amazing.


Everything organised. And the Village, the restaurants. I think


sport has united all Iraqi people. This river was the frontline in so


much of the recent conflict here. After Saddam was toppled, sectarian


violence spiralled out of control. 2006/7, this year was very, very


bad. Nobody can go normally in the street. You just want to be at home.


We still came here training. We see a lot of bodies in the river. There


is one, two bodies down there. We cannot move it. We still train


three metres from it. We go from here to the body. One body stayed


there two or three weeks. I left Iraq at that time. What made you


come back? I was asked to come back for training and competing.


Hamza ever thought about going somewhere else? Hamza never think


he leave Iraq. He stay with the Stepping away from the water and


reflecting on what they've had to endure, it makes the hardship of an


ordinary athlete seem almost luxurious. It begs the question,


Here we go. Go into the street cafes and it's clear just how the


average Baghdad residents love their sport and how much Iraq needs


it. TRANSLATION: When Iraq does well at sport, it is good for our


country's reputation. It makes us feel good about ourselves. We can


forget about the killing, the bombings, the corruption, it makes


us feel happy. Iraqis are passionate about their


sport but they've only ever won one medal at the Olympics, a bronze in


weight lifting 50 years ago. Looking back over the last few


decades, what strikes you is that they've managed to get to every


game since 1980, that, despite the wars and the upheaval. There are


dark tales from the Saddam Husseineer era. His son headed the


Olympic Committee. And there were reports of torture and murder for


those who missed training or didn't So any success is something to


cherish. Haider knows that but he also has to face reality. He's


getting married. Marriage is a new phase for anyone. It may be one of


several changes for him. Iraq is his home for now. But will it offer


him the best chance to train and compete at the level he aspires to?


For the time being, his life is much like any other aspiring


sportsman of his age. A daily routine of study and training. But


he left Iraq once before because of the war and lived in Sweden. Now,


the training opportunities that another country could offer may


pull him away from the friends and the city he loves. He has a tough


decision to make. Tough, too, as going would mean leaving behind his


rowing partner Hamza. At 34, he's nine years older than Haider. He's


very settled here juggling training with his home life. He worked in


the family bakery before giving that up to row full-time. It may


not seem like much. But this generator is one of the perks that


Hamza's sporting status allows him. A luxury in a city where power cuts


are still a daily occurrance. Those hours in the weights room are worth


it, then. The noise of the generator may well drown out


anything you're trying to watch on the TV. But a cup of tea from your


mum is welcome wherever you are. For Hamza, a chance to compete in


London either with or without Haider is his main goal. He


survives on prize money and the monthly grant he gets from the


Olympic Committee. Rowing is his whole life and it defines who he is.


TRANSLATION: What I love about rowing has to be the competitions.


When we train, I think about the plan the coach has put together for


us. I think about how I can adapt it so I can get the best out of


myself. We put so much effort into it. Here in Baghdad, there are so


many challenges involved. I feel when I compete I can really show my


courage. For the younger generation of rowers here, Haider and Hamza


are more than just role models. They are proof that, despite the


odds stacked against them, they can make it. They can get to world


competitions and prove Iraq is more than just a war zone. The club


officials are in no doubt of how sport can bring this nation


together. TRANSLATION: Sport is very important here. It involves a


large section of youngsters and brings together people from


different parts of Iraqi society. From different ethnicities and


sectors. It doesn't differentiate between Arab, Kurdish, Sunni, Shia


and so on. It is an uniter of all Iraqis. We hope Iraq's getting


better. There's security. We want peace, live normally like everybody


lives. Right now, we are living normally. I go to my college, come


to my training. Normal life. He have job. Goes to his job. We hope


Iraq's getting better by security. There is no more war, no more bombs.


Be safe. That's what we hope for Hamza and Haider are too modest to


see themselves as peace makers. They are rowers first and foremost.


Dedicated enough for them to rejig this boat to fit one huge former


Olympian in. Now we come to the bit of the trip


I've been looking forward to. That's going rowing on the Tigris.


I'm going with Hamza and Haider. And another from the club. Haider


is a heavyweight. Like me. He's a big guy. He's at least fit. Hamza


is a lightweight. He's probably six inches shorter and at least three


stone lighter than Haider. We're giving away a bit of power with


that. The other guy who's coming down will be a lightweight. It will


be a bit of a mix and match four, you could say. But I'm still


looking forward to it. It's not really de rigueur to allow two of


your crewmates to do all the work. So I better help them before we go


out on the water. So many of us are fascinated by the tales of winning


that will spring from the London Games. The champions, the medals.


Iraq has only won a single bronze in Olympic history. And that won't


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 43 seconds


change in London, but that's not My time in Iraq is coming to an end.


I'll be glad to be at home and to really ask myself, was it worth it?


It's been hard work and yes, on some levels, it's been dangerous.


But workload and risk are what Hamza and Haider have to balance


every day. So I guess I owed to them. Yes, it was worth it.


Ever since I've been in Baghdad, the only time the place has ever


felt right is down by the river. Whether it is filming down that way


in the city. Or coming here to the rowing club and seeing these guys


training here, doing their preparations. It's been standing on


the bank that's looked good for the first time. When you step back from


the river, it's all much harder work. It's chaos, traffic, it's


pollution, it's corruption and of course, the violence. And then


suddenly, this afternoon, going out on to the water, all that falls


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