A 21-year-old female runner from the world's "happiest nation" has been selected to train in Japan in the hope of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"I've been given a huge chance. I will train really hard because I want to be at Tokyo 2020," says Pradhan Goma from Bhutan, who was chosen to take part in a special program run by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that supports athlete development.
Specializing in middle and long distances, Goma has a personal best of 12 minutes and 26 seconds in the 3,000-meter event. She was selected to participate in the IOC program after showing highly promising talent in Bhutan as well as a desire to one day become a coach.
Since arriving in Japan in October, Goma has been coached by the athletics club at Seisa Dohto University in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, where she will be based until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in three years time. If she is selected to compete at Tokyo 2020, she will make history by being the first Bhutanese person to take part in a track and field event at the Olympics.
Nestled between India and China, Bhutan is situated east of the Himalayas, and is about the same size as Kyushu. It has a population of about 780,000. It is renowned for its emphasis on the concept of "Gross National Happiness," but is not particularly active in terms of sports.
When Goma was 20, she was chosen to take part in a local interschool tournament, which inspired her to take up serious athletics training. However, the only place where athletes can train in Bhutan is at the sole athletics stadium in the country.
In Japan, Goma now has access to a full-time coach and excellent facilities. "I feel happy training in Japan," she says. Whenever she sees other people running in the local streets she feels inspired, saying, "Taking part in sports in a positive manner feels natural here."
Before arriving in Japan, Goma would do high-altitude training at heights of 2,000 meters and above.
When Japanese Olympic Committee executive board member and 2000 Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi visited Bhutan in January, she was complimentary about Goma's capability: "She always practices at high altitude, so she has excellent cardiorespiratory function," adding that, "She has the potential to keep getting stronger."
In addition to Goma, two Eritrean athletes, aged 17 and 18, were also selected to take part in the IOC program and are training in Japan.