It was almost certain that none from the Bangladesh athletics team would go to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when the Bangladesh Olympic Association received no wild-cards on the deadline day of July 14. The country's fastest man and woman, Mezbah Ahmed and Shirin Akter, barely harboured any hopes after that.
However, on July 18, Shirin was informed that she, along with Mezbah, will be flying off to Rio after getting wild-cards at the last moment. Before Shirin could believe what she just heard over the phone, she called her good friend and team mate Mezbah. It was around 12:30am.
“When the deadline crossed, we knew that we wouldn't go to the Olympics. It broke my heart. Four days later when I heard the news, I couldn't believe it at first. I called my friend Mezbah and informed him. I think he was still in doubt. He later told me he slept peacefully after hearing the news but I couldn't sleep the whole night,” said Shirin.
Among many similarities, Mezbah and Shirin both hail from the south-western part of Bangladesh; the former from Bagerhat and the latter from Satkhira. They are the youngest members of the seven-member Bangladesh contingent for the Rio Olympics.
They started their athletics schooling together in 2007, having been admitted to the BKSP and till today they have remained friends. Both of them are now at Bangladesh Navy and will be travelling to the Olympics for the first time ever in the 100m sprint event.
“She stood beside me and lent her helping hand whenever I faced problems. She also seeks help from me and I try my best to support her. Before she runs for a sprint, she asks me to point out the mistakes and share them with her. We got admitted at BKSP together and were taught by Kafi sir,” said Mezbah.
Both said it has been a long-term dream for them to partake in the Olympics. “The Olympics is a dream for any athlete. When I was admitted at BKSP in 2007, I started dreaming of the Olympics and reaching the peak. I'm very happy. I don't know how to express it. I have been thinking as to how I will go there, how I will adapt with the weather, how can I represent my country over there. I'm very excited,” added Shirin.
The athletics pair's Olympics targets are also similar. Both are aiming to record their personal best timing. Mezbah's best timing so far is 10.72s while Shirin's is 11.99s, both set in the South Asian Games in Guwahati this year. Both went to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 but their timing there were nowhere near their personal bests.
Among the five athletes from Navy who will be going to Rio, Shirin is the only person who is not a service-holder. She is studying Islamic Studies at Rajshahi University and is currently in her second year. The pro-Vice Chancellor, department chairman and friends of her university congratulated her after the Olympics confirmation.
This Olympics would be a special occasion for both Mezbah and Shirin. Their second favourite sport is football, after athletics, while both of their favourite football team is Brazil.
“I have been a Brazil fan since my childhood. Now I will be going there to take part in the biggest sporting event. It is going to be a very special moment in my life,” said Mezbah.