LONDON (Reuters): So how does it feel flying halfway round the world from the Maldives and losing your Badminton debut at the Olympics in straight sets?
The reaction from Mohamed Ajfan Rasheed was remarkably upbeat, especially as he had fulfilled a boyhood dream only hours earlier by carrying the flag for his tiny Indian Ocean island state at the spectacular opening ceremony.
“Basically I am thrilled to be here. I take it as a positive experience,” he told Reuters.
For the ebullient and eloquent 22-year-old, invited to the London Games as part of an International Olympic Committee scheme to encourage sport around the globe, just being there is what the Olympics is all about.
The tourist paradise of the Maldives, famed for its sun-kissed atolls that face the ever present threat of global warming and rising sea levels, has sent five athletes to London 2012. He is still pinching himself at being one of them.
“It is difficult to explain in words. It is a great excitement for us,” he said, still pouring with sweat after his first-round 21-9 21-6 trouncing in the humid Wembley Arena by European champion Marc Zwiebler.
The German was 14th seed. Rasheed is ranked 209 in the world.
His only moment of glory came in the first set when the scoreboard showed he was leading 7-1. Hasty electronic adjustments by the umpire returned the harsh reality to 1-7.
“He knows how to keep the rallies going and is very experienced,” Rasheed said. “It is my first time playing a European player.
“The Maldives is a small country. We don’t have many players. We don’t get the best coaching and I have been training in Malaysia for the past year,” he added.
His Olympic memories, though, will be cherished for a lifetime.
“I was flag bearer for my country. It was a big thing for me. It has been my dream since I was very small. Now that I have achieved my dream, I am very happy,” he said.
He would not have missed Friday’s opening ceremony experience for the world but was quick to leave the track straight after parading so he could get a full night’s sleep before playing.
He will have to catch Paul McCartney signing “Hey Jude” some other time.
With his parents back in the Maldives’ capital Male watching him on television, Rasheed waxed lyrical about home - where he first started playing badminton at the age of 12.
“Though we have global warming and the sea level is rising, I still love my country and would do anything to be there,” he said. “It’s the natural beauty everywhere - the sandy beaches, the crystal clear water, the nice weather. We love it.”
There will now be time for some London tourism. First stops are the Madame Tussaud waxworks and the British Museum.
He wants to savour every moment.
“I will take all the experience and make as many friends as I can.”