From the mountains of Afghanistan to the most prestigious competition in winter sport, skiers Alishah Farhang and Sajjad Husaini are on the brink of Olympic history.
Recently, Afghanistan Olympic Committee president Mohammad Zahir Aghbar registered the two skiers at the General Assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees in Prague, pushing them one step closer to an Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. While qualification is not gauranteed, the two athletes now have a clear path to try and race their way to the Games’ 140-point cut-off before the January 22 Olympic selection deadline.
Farhang, 27, and Husaini, 26, compete in the giant slalom, and they turned heads last year when they skied at the 2017 FIS World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Though they finished 86th and 87th respectively, the pair put the mountains of Afghanistan on the world alpine map.
Afghanistan is home to several peaks over 20,000 feet, and mountain valleys perfect for long ski seasons. Still, modern competitive skiing is a relatively new phenomenon in the region, and it wasn’t until 2010 that a Swiss non-profit helped establish Bamyan Ski Club, the country’s first organized ski club.
That same year, the club hosted the first ever backcountry ski race in the country, a tradition that has endured in the seven years since. In 2017 the Afghan Ski Challenge drew Afghan and international competitors, and crowned both men’s and women’s champions, a unique occurrence in the predominantly Muslim country.
Farhang and Husaini were part of the first wave of skiers in the club, and were invited to train in Switzerland in 2014 at a specifically designed training camp in hopes of producing future Olympians from the region. The duo returned to Europe for more training in 2015 and 2016, racing in a series of FIS races before hitting the World Championship slopes of St. Moritz.
But competing on the world stage comes with a price tag, and for a couple of competitors from a valley that only occasionally had electricity until recently, money can be hard to come by.
Farhang and Husaini have received private donations and Swiss coaches have helped raise money with a pop-up bar in St. Moritz, but the two are hoping to raise an additional $30,000 ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Games to pay for the training and travel expenses as they chase history.
In the face of the financial obstacle, Husaini remains hopeful that 2018 will be the start of something big.
“I want to show all people in all countries that Afghanistan is not just war and explosions,” Husaini told CNN. “I want to tell them we want to rebuild our country.”
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