ATHENS Robina Muqimyar wore a T-shirt and long green track pants for the biggest race of her life.
Approaching the 100-meter starting line, she waved and smiled when introduced to the cheering crowd. After a few moments, the gun went off and she ran as hard as she could, finishing in 14.14 seconds, the second-slowest time of 63 competitors.
Muqimyar raised her arms in triumph. It was her time to celebrate.
Just four years ago, the thought of Muqimyar running seemed laughable in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. But on Friday, she was joined on the 100-meter world stage by women from several other Islamic countries, all making strides toward the universal acceptance of female athletes.
"I hope I can open the way for the Afghan women," the 18-year-old Muqimyar said through a translator. "And this was the first, I am very happy for that."
None of the women had blazing times. It was their simple presence that mattered.
Danah al Nasrallah of Kuwait, a 16-year-old who wears braces, stands 4-feet-11 and weighs 99 pounds, became the first woman to represent her conservative Muslim country. She finished in 13.92, third to last overall.
Of course, that was a national record.
Rakia Al Gassra of Bahrain, competing in a head scarf, long sleeves and long track pants, was fifth in her heat in 11.49. Her time almost got her into the quarterfinals 11.43 was the cutoff mark.
Alla Jassim of Iraq, also 18, finished last in her heat but 52nd overall in 12.70. She is the only woman in the Iraqi delegation.
"This is a great honor for me to be here," said Jassim, who lives in Baghdad with her mother and three brothers. "I feel I am here representing all the Iraqi people, not just the women. I've had a lot of support from my family and many others to do this."
Muqimyar and judo competitor Friba Razayee are the first women to represent Afghanistan at the Olympics. Afghanistan was banned in 1999 on the grounds that sports could no longer function under the hardline Taliban regime, which was severely oppressive toward women.
Afghanistan was reinstated to international competition last year. It had its first female representative at the world track and field championships in Paris, where Lima Azimi wore long baggy pants and had a hard time using the starting blocks. She posted a time of 18.37 a personal best.
The International Olympic Committee also told the country that to compete in Athens, women had to be part of the delegation. Muqimyar was one of the first to sign up for the chance to compete at the Olympics, even though there are still many at home who believe women should not participate in sports.
"The majority of the people in Afghanistan do not like Afghan women to run outside with some 20,000 people watching her," said 20-year-old Omid Marzban, host of the TV show "Good Morning Afghanistan."
"But she was wearing long trousers that means she did respect her people, even though she did not have a scarf," he said.
Training in Kabul, Muqimyar didn't have proper running shoes Adidas donated some for the Games and wasn't allowed to run outside or with men. There were bullet holes in her track.
It may have been even worse for Jassim of Iraq, who started running in 2003.
"I would have trained five to six times a week, but because of the bombs and explosions I often could not," she said. Eventually, she went to Jordan to train.
Muqimyar believes she can continue her running career, no matter what people think of her at home.
"I'm going to train harder, and I hope to have the facilities in Afghanistan," she said. "I will really get ready for the 2008 Olympic Games. I hope I can win a medal, at least a bronze medal."
She was far from that in her first Olympics, although she did beat Fartun Omar Abukar of Somalia, who during the final 20 meters cut over from lane four to lane one and clocked 14.29. Officials did not disqualify her."At least I was ahead of one person," Muqimyar said. "I think I did pretty well. I will never ever forget this moment in my life."
Contributing: Bob Baum, AP