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Nobody expected Sadaf Rahimi, the female boxer originally selected to represent Afghanistan at the Olympic Games this week, to do well in the ring. The mere fact that she would be representing her country was triumph enough. To get to the selection stage, she had to fend off social opprobrium, religious condemnation and even the disapproval of some of her own coaches who believed that women’s boxing shouldn’t go any further than the hobby stage. Rahimi won every one of those battles. Her path to London was but the latest leg of an extraordinary journey for Afghanistan’s women, who, little more than a decade ago, were forced to stay at home, denied the right to obtain an education, to work — and to play sports. She might have won over her countrymen, but in the end, she couldn’t make it past the International Boxing Association (AIBA), who decided on July 18 that she could not compete, citing concerns that boxing against opponents of much higher standards might threaten her safety in the ring. Not only is this a disappointment for Rahimi, her family and the aspirations of female Afghan athletes, it strikes a blow to the International Olympic Committee’s goal to have female athletes represent every country, just a week after Saudi Arabia, the last holdout, reluctantly agreed to send two female athletes.

(For daily coverage of the 2012 Games, visit TIME’s Olympics blog)

Rahimi had been preparing for the Olympics since February, when she was first notified that she would receive what is known as a wild-card invitation — a special berth granted to nations that would not otherwise be able to qualify an appropriately skilled athlete. Later that month she traveled to the U.K. to train in a special AIBA boxing camp, where she had her first taste of Olympic-caliber boxing. At first, she told TIME, she was getting knocked down “two to three times a day.” But by the end of the two-week program, she was starting to hold her own in the ring. Still, she was sanguine about her chances in London. “I am sure I will be punched like a bag. Like I am a pillow being pummeled,” she told TIME in April. “Whether I win a medal or not, I will be a symbol of courage as soon as I step into the ring.”

(Related: How to Compete in the Olympics While Fasting for Ramadan)

It is unclear why the AIBA waited until just over a week before the Olympics to revoke Rahimi’s invitation. In May, when Rahimi attended the women’s world boxing championships in China, her fight was stopped short, after a minute and 20 seconds, because she was doing so poorly. Her coach, as well as the Afghan National Olympic Committee, felt that her performance in China was an aberration, saying she had performed well in other international competitions. Rahimi, say close friends in Kabul, is disappointed. But she is looking forward to competing in other international events and still holds out hope that with a few more years to train, her chances in Rio 2016 will be even better. And back at home, in the ramshackle studio Rahimi shares with Afghanistan’s other boxers, she has already started winning some converts to her side. As the women’s club trickled out of the gym to make way for the men’s boxing team a few months ago, I stopped to ask one of the men’s coaches what he thought about the idea of women boxing. “At the beginning it was strange,” admitted Sayed Haroon. “Everything new is strange at first, but you can get used to anything if you see it enough times.” Rahimi may not be boxing in London this year, but she will continue the fight back home in Afghanistan.

To read more about Rahimi, read Baker’s piece here

Aryn Baker is TIME’s Middle East bureau chief based in Kabul.

Andrea Bruce is a photographer based in Afghanistan. She was previously featured on LightBox after winning the Chris Hondros Award.

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Few are alive today who remember the 1948 Olympics in London. To commemorate London’s third hosting of the Games, TIME has traversed two continents to speak to the last surviving medalists from the U.K. and the U.S. for its special Olympics edition. Those competitors speak of feelings familiar to us all—the comfort of a lucky charm, the joy of victory. They also recount experiences that are foreign to many athletes today: the enervating effect of post-war rations, and training sessions fitted around everyday jobs.

Despite the various hardships they encountered, the athletes interviewed by TIME remember the Games fondly. Yet when the International Olympic Committee selected London to host the 1948 Summer Olympics, not everyone in the city was pleased. “The average range of British enthusiasm for the Games stretches from lukewarm to dislike,” wrote London’s Evening Standard in September 1947. “It is not too late for invitations to be politely withdrawn.” Even government officials who had pushed for a London Olympics acknowledged that following the devastation of the Second World War, Britain had few resources to spare for a sporting contest. “We have a housing shortage, and food difficulties, which do not permit us to do all we wish,” said Prime Minister Clement Attlee in a radio address welcoming athletes in 1948.

(For daily coverage of the 2012 Games, visit TIME’s Olympics blog)

It was called the ‘austerity’ Olympics—in a sense that even in today’s frugal times we can hardly fathom. With a budget of just $1.2 million (compared to today’s almost $14 billion), no new venues were built—instead, organizers made do and mended. The Henley Royal Regatta course hosted rowing events despite being 70 meters too short. Javelin throwers, deprived of stadium lighting, cast their spears in the dark, while judges officiated with flashlights. Wembley Stadium—usually used as a greyhound racing arena—received a new brick rubble cinder surface, which quickly turned to slush in the rain.

Yet, as Atlee pointed out, if there was anything lacking, it was not “good will.” Britain worked hard to be able to welcome 4,000 competitors from 59 countries – converting university dormitories, schools and RAF bases into accommodation for visiting athletes and their entourages. The army convalescent camp in London’s Richmond Park became an athletes’ village, complete with a ‘milk bar’, a cobbler’s, a hair dresser’s, a post office and a cinema to seat 500. Good will also streamed in from other nations, particularly when it came to food. The Dutch shipped over 100 tons of fruit and vegetables, Denmark contributed 160,000 eggs, and Czechoslovakia sent 20,000 mineral water bottles. The Brits cooked these and other contributions in camp kitchens, attempting to cater to national cuisines. Although post-war rations were boosted for athletes, the fare wasn’t always well received—legend has it that oarsmen displeased by their end-of-the-Olympics dinner at Henley began to chuck bread rolls in protest.

Still, athletes managed to enjoy themselves, without fine cuisine and—in many cases—without alcohol (though the French team carted over their own wine). After winning a gold medal in the swallow sailing class, David Bond and other competitors celebrated by going to a dance at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, on the English coast. “We had a wonderful ball,” he tells TIME. “Nobody got drunk actually.” In 1948, the rewards for top competitors, were modest — a medal to show to their family and, in British cyclist Tommy Godwin’s case, a post-race glass of chocolate milk. There were no multi-million dollar endorsements, no spandex uniforms, no neon mascots. The big technological advances in 1948 were the photo finish and silk swimming costumes, which replaced saggy cotton. Yet for all the differences with the modern Games, some things have remained the same. Sixty years later, people from all over the world will gather once more in London to celebrate the Olympic spirit. Londoners will still grumble. And like Prime Minister Attlee said in his address, everyone will be hoping for a bit of good weather.

Jim Naughten is a photographer based in London. See more of his work here.

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