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After dodging rockets on her track in Beirut, Lebanon's only woman

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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 07 July 2013 - 09:24 AM

Indian Express, India
July 5, 2013 Friday

After dodging rockets on her track in Beirut, Lebanon's only woman
athlete bags bronze

Chinmay Brahme

Greta Taslakian, still panting from the exertion of pushing her lungs
to the limit, says running like this makes all the danger and
disappointments that she has to contend with back home worth her
while. The 27-year-old Lebanese is the bronze medal winner in the 400m
event, a race she ran after a gap of eight years.

Living in a country wrecked by civil war and sectarian unrest, the
problems that Taslakian has had to contend with are of a rather grave
nature. "Over the last decade, I have had rockets whistling over the
track as I run laps. I have had to literally run with my heart in my
mouth, dodging bullets and finding cover, just to get to my training
venue back home in Beirut," she says. Taslakian is Lebanon's only
woman representative at the Asian Athletics Championship and
definitely its most fabled.

Born to Lebanese-Armenian mixed parentage, Taslakian is her country's
sole and among a select band of female athletes in the Middle-East to
have represented her country in three successive editions of the
Summer Olympics. She is also one of the top sprinters in the
Middle-East with a silver medal in the 2011 Kobe edition of the Asian
Championship and also three gold medals in the Pan Arab games.

Taslakian cut her teeth in cross-country running and then graduated to
sprinting events. After her bronze medal effort, Taslakian says,
"After my heats where I was able to control my run mentally, I knew I
had a chance in the finals. I ran the first 200 metres really well and
I thought I was a gold medal contender. In the home stretch, I just
lost a little bit of time but still a medal's a medal."

Ask about other women athletes in Lebanon, and the smile on her
sun-tanned face flickers for a brief instance. "Women in Lebanon have
the talent but not the guts. You can't stop running just because
someone tells you that your role as a woman is different. I have
always faced opposition. I have been told to go home because I am not
strong enough to be an athlete. I have done nothing more than push
myself, and look where it has got me," she says. For Taslakian, more
than societal pressures, it is the lack of finances that is holding
back athletes from the Middle-East.

"For the last 15 years, I have scrounged money just to finance my
running. There are minimal facilities and professional sport is just
not attractive enough in my country. At the Olympics, I have often
felt that with a little more financial support, I could have made
something of myself but then." she trails off.

Having been Lebanon's representative in three editions of the Olympics
(2004, '08, '12), Taslakian has struck a few special friendships. But
none is more special than the one she has with current 100m Olympic
champ, the Jamaican, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce. "Shelly and I are great
friends. We talk very regularly and I keep visiting her from time to
time. The best about her is that even though she is a phenomenal
athlete, she never fires off advice. The only thing that she insists
on though is that I should come and train with her," says Taslakian.

She is, however, candid enough to admit that there is a substantial
gulf in class and says training with Fraser-Pryce would do more harm
than good. "I don't have the body nor the strength to push myself to
the levels that Shelly does. I would just end up injuring myself. I am
happy to cheer her on when she races, but I have kept my distance as
far as training goes," she says.
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