One of the first things the unpretentious staff at the U.S. Olympic Committee's public relations department told Emad Nassir Hussain to do when he arrived in America was to lose the suit.
"I was wearing a T-shirt, a red and white T-shirt I bought in California. The gunman just wanted the guys in suits. I guess they thought I cleaned the place."
-- Emad Nassir Hussain
So, Hussain's three, heavy wool suits went into the closet and never came out.
Of all the lessons the spokesman for the Iraq Olympic team learned during his three-month training stint with the USOC in Colorado Springs, it could have been the dressing down about
dressing up that had the most lasting impact.
In a way, it also might have saved his life.
Hussain was among those at a meeting of the Iraq National Olympic Committee on Saturday in Baghdad when a swarm of gunmen raided the building and took at least 30 people, including the chairman of the committee, hostage.
Hussain, 40, was shot in the leg, but not taken hostage.
"You may have saved my life," he told Bob Condron of the
USOC's PR staff in a telephone conversation from the hospital in
Baghdad. "You told me to never wear a suit. I was wearing a
T-shirt, a red and white T-shirt I bought in California. The gunman
just wanted the guys in suits. I guess they thought I cleaned the
Hussain's three months in Colorado -- his first trip to America -- came courtesy of a program run by the USOC and International Olympic Committee that sends staffers from Olympic committees in less well-off countries to those in other nations to see how they operate.
"His boss told him since he was coming here, he'd need to wear
suits all the time," said Cecil Bleiker of the USOC media
There is no such dress code on that staff, and after dispensing
with that seemingly minor detail, Hussain and the staff quickly
became friends both in and out of the office -- heading to baseball
games, on sightseeing trips and often doing lunch at a nearby
"He was just one of those people who fits into the situation
incredibly," Condron said. "Everyone liked him. We knew within
one second that he had a great sense of humor."
During his last lunch in America, Hussain couldn't finish his
"Can I have a doggie bag, please?" he asked a waiter, as he got ready to pack up the burrito and a few remaining tortilla chips from the basket. Those words "made all of us at the U.S. Olympic Committee know he'd be all right," Condron wrote in an essay recounting Hussain's time in the United States.
"There were trips to Royal Gorge, trips into the mountains,"
Condron wrote. "He got to see the Colorado Rockies play and
sampled a hot dog for the first time in his life."
He went to the mall and bought a dozen watches and a nose-hair trimmer. He liked sugar-free ice cream sandwiches. He learned how to play catch with a baseball and spent a lot of time cruising with
Bleiker in Bleiker's pickup truck.
Staying in a room across the hall from Apolo Anton Ohno at the Olympic Training Center, Hussain, who doubles as a player for Iraq's national table tennis team, saw what could be possible someday in his country -- better training facilities, better
athletes and maybe even a competitive sports program for the entire country to rally around.
When he returned to Iraq on July 1, he sent the USOC a letter.
"I learned many things here beside my profession. I learned the
love and the worth of the life as a human being that we never feel
in the Saddam regime," he wrote.
He was attending a meeting filled with heads of the national
organizing committees of several sports when the raid took place.
After the shooting and the chaos, a friend took him out of the
building and to the hospital. The day after the attack, his wife
gave birth to their second child -- a son, Haider.
In his short phone conversation with Condron, Hussain said all
was well with him and the new baby.
"But the Iraqi Olympic Committee is gone," he said. "They're
On Sunday, six hostages were set free, unharmed. But the fate of
the rest, including chairman Ahmed al-Hijiya, was still unknown.
By Monday, Hussain was out of the hospital and communicating by
e-mail. His leg was far from healed. His perspective was well
"I think this attack is not just targeting the Iraqi Olympic Committee but it is a negative m[e]ssage for the whole sports in the world," he wrote to Condron. "I like to invite all the
Olympic families and athletes in the world to denounce this
kidnapping to send a strong m[e]ssage to all the terrorism in the
world that the sport is a high ideal to unite all the people in
love and peace."