Mahbooba Ahadgar (or Mehboba Andyar as she was called in earlier news items –spelling varies) was scheduled to run in the 800m and 1,500m. She had no chance of a medal – indeed it was likely she would have finished a minute or more behind the winners. For her to take part in the greatest sporting tournament on earth would be victory enough.
Miss Ahadgar disappeared from the town of Formia, south of Rome, where she had been training with other Olympic Solidarity hopefuls for the previous month. According to Nick Davies, press spokesman for the world athletics governing body IAAF, the group was due to return to a training camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 7 July – but Ms Ahadgar disappeared. "There were all sorts of lurid rumours about her being kidnapped," said Mr Davies. "But now it emerges that she took her passport, stamped with a visa valid for the Schengen countries, and belongings with her. Clearly she's taken a decision."
Ms Ahadgar phoned her family in of Kabul to tell them that she was on her way to claim political asylum in Norway.
Her decision to run presented Miss Ahadgar with huge difficulties. She chose to train in a headscarf and tracksuit to avoid being criticised for immodesty, and timed her runs for the evening when most Kabulis are at home watching their favourite soap opera. But when foreign journalists came calling at the family home to interview her, neighbours phoned the police and reported that she was receiving men as a prostitute. Her father was briefly thrown in jail until the confusion was cleared up.
Her mother, Moha Jan, added: "We are really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family. But these problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."
There was always a possibility that she would seize the opportunity presented by her Schengen visa to escape from the grinding poverty of Afghanistan for good. To try to dissuade Ms Ahadgar from vanishing, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan. Now she has called his bluff.
And who can blame her for making this decision? She faced problems no athlete in the West would face in their worst nightmares. While it would have been great to see her do her very best in Beijing, it would not cut much ice with many fellow Afghans.