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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 05:38 GMT 06:38 UK
The dreams of a nation
The East Timor team
Competing has been a bonus for the East Timor team
East Timor's hopes of competing in the Olympics were all but a dream - until the International Olympic Committee stepped in and awarded them Olympic status. BBC Sport's Jonathon Moore caught up with their head coach.

Just over a year ago, thousands were fleeing East Timor as Indonesian militias took control.

Now, under a United Nations administration, the country has voted to break free and become a separate nation in its own right.

With four competitors taking part in the Olympics (boxing, weightlifting and two marathon runners), East Timor's team manager, Frank Fowlie admitted the road to the Games had been a long one.

"It's been a difficult journey for our athletes to get here," he said.

East Timor weightlifter
The East Timor weightlifters were left without weights
"You can imagine the training they've undergone in the last year - it's probably been more difficult for them than any other athlete involved in the same sport anywhere else in the world."

Fowlie described the pathetic resources available to his athletes in a country devastated by civil war.

"Weightlifters were left without weights," he said, "boxers were left without boxing equipment.

"Our marathon runners were even running barefoot on the beaches."

Neutral flag

The nation marched under the flag of the International Olympic Committee during the opening ceremony. Before the Games, each athlete was awarded Olympic solidarity scholarships - enabling them to train in Darwin alongside other Olympic competitors.

Fowlie, who took over the job of organising East Timor's Olympic hopes earlier this year, said the nation's inclusion in Sydney 2000 came as a huge surprise.

"Because of the way the agreement works - the athletes are not allowed to speak of anything political," he said.

"I can tell you that the athletes who are here have undergone an awful lot of stress and changes to their personal safety.

"I'm surprised we made it to this Olympics. When I took over the work on the Olympic movement in January my expectation was that we probably wouldn't be able to field at team until 2004 in Athens.

"The fact the IOC decided to accept these athletes was a surprise and a bonus. It's a great thing."

Fowlie said the interest the IOC had shown in East Timor had raised the spirit of the nation and he thanked those who had come to the help of his team.

"People around the world have shown their generosity and provided sporting goods to help the athletes train and compete," he said.

"It's been a wonderful time for them - whatever happens in Sydney."

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See also:

19 Aug 00 |  Olympics2000
East Timorese to make Olympic debut
06 Sep 00 |  Olympics2000
East Timorese set for Sydney
14 Aug 00 |  Olympics2000
Terror tales of Olympic hopefuls
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