For Faisal Faisal, the 2006 Turin Olympics were both unforgettable and unbearable.
Pinned inside his family’s Baghdad home, Faisal watched the Olympics with a war outside his window. Adding to his anguish was this: He was almost part of the show, narrowly missing qualifying for the Olympic skeleton competition.
“It crushed my life,” Faisal said.
Fast forward nearly four years. Things in Baghdad remain difficult, but the 29-year-old Iraqi, is trying yet again to carry his country’s flag into the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
His odds are not good. Of course, making it this far wasn’t guaranteed, either.
“When I look back at it, it’s so painful, and a part of me does fear missing the Olympics again,” Faisal said. “But that’s the risk you take as an athlete.”
Faisal, whose father and uncle were both champion track athletes, was inspired by the Nagano Games in 1998. While studying in Australia he experimented with various winter sports before settling on skeleton.
Around 2005, he called the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation seeking help. Within two weeks, he was on the ice in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I’ve always been taught that the Olympics are about bringing the world together,” 2002 Olympic skeleton gold medallist Jim Shea Jr., a Lake Placid native and third-generation Winter Olympian, said at the time. “I think this story is amazing.”
Helped by members of the U.S. team, Faisal barely missed earning an Olympic invite.
It’ll be tougher this time.
He’s already been handed one setback: There was an issue with his international racing licence, which led to him being barred from the Olympic track in Whistler during the recent two-week training period there. (Both sides say it was a misunderstanding.)
His hope is this: Carry the Iraqi flag this February. Have some Iraqi kids see what he’s done, and let that serve as their motivation to take on something that might seem impossible. Sliding headfirst down an icy track is one small way to make it happen.