When you think of Afghanistan, skiing certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, Sajjad Husaini and Alishah Farhang are working to change the perception that their country is exclusively war torn by representing Afghanistan at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang Country, South Korea. It will be the first time the country makes an appearance at the Winter Olympics.
“We are not aiming for a gold medal or a victory for my country,” Farhang told Powder Magazine in 2017. “We are trying to show a positive image of Afghanistan to the world. When people hear Afghanistan, they think war, violence, killing each other. I cannot ignore that. It is some of that. But it’s not as much as you hear in the media. And we can bring a positive change through sport.”
Husaini, 26, was living as a refugee in Iran for 13, but returned to his home country and learned how to ski at 21 years old. Farhang, 27, began skiing at 19 years old. The two have been training at St. Moritz resort in the Swiss Alps, and they will compete in the giant slalom at the Olympics.
So, how did they get into skiing in Afghanistan of all places? It turns out that a British ski company and two Swiss coaches started the Bamyan Ski Club in the region because of its optimal winter conditions. There were no chairlifts or snowcats, and at first, most of the club used wooden skis. But, the thrill of skiing (after the long hike uphill) is what drew a crowd.
As the years passed, the Afghan Ski Challenge emerged, which is an annual race hosted by the ski club that pits skiers from Afghanistan against skiers from other countries in an effort to promote the sport and tourism in Bamyan Province.
Husaini and Farhang have both won the race, so with the help of charitable contributions, they were able to go to Europe and train under a coach for the Olympics.
To say they’re the underdogs in the 2018 Games is an understatement. To say they’re all heart and in it for the right reasons is more accurate. Where they place remains to be seen, but they’re certainly making their country proud all while making the rest of the world turn their heads.