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Afghani skiers take step towards Olympics

dpa logodpa 15/02/2017 Derek Wilson

Two skiers from the war-torn nation Afghanistan will become the country's first entrants in the alpine ski world championships.

A Swiss journalist's moment of inspiration six years ago laid the foundation for two Afghani skiers to enter the alpine world championships - and on Thursday they will take to the slopes.

Alishah Farhang and Sajjad Husaini will not be skiing down the glamorous Corviglia course lined with fans but instead off at a more modest piste, trying to qualify for the main run of Friday's giant slalom.

But the world championships is the world championships, qualifiers or not, and it is a potential stepping stone towards the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in 2018.

"This is a big dream, and a big goal for us to go to the Winter Olympics as the first from Afghanistan," Husaini said.

Farhang, 26, and Hasaini, 25, are backed by the village of St Moritz, a ski sponsor and the non-profit Bamyan Ski Club - named after the snowy mountain region in Afghanistan where visiting Swiss reporter Christoph Zuercher first hatched the idea of promoting skiing in the country.

They were given the opportunity to trade Afghanistan for professional ski training in Switzerland, a world away from the upbringing in their native land which saw both athletes, and their families, flee the Taliban.

"You can imagine coming from a country like Afghanistan to a place like St Moritz," Farhang said.

"It's totally different but we take it in the right way, take advantage of this opportunity given to us from supporters and sponsors.

"It's quite an interesting story, a different way of changing Afghanistan."

The Bamyan Club now runs annual races both in Afghanistan and St Moritz and, to raise funds to develop skiing, opens an apres-ski clubhouse in the Swiss village each winter.

"Skiing is a really expensive sport, we don't have any chair lifts [back home], Husaini said. "The people who do ski in Afghanistan can enjoy it in the mountains on the snow but they can't really train for racing."

The pair commit fully to their training, rising at 6 am every day for strength exercises before breakfast.

Then they head to the mountains for two hours of professional instruction before spending the rest of the day practising what has been taught.

Haenni attempted to both calm the excitement by telling journalists the group were taking "little steps" but did admit to also dreaming of a 2018 trip to South Korea.

Coming from a country where war remains an all too real memory, it is the journey rather than the destination which is the main thing.

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