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Somalis Eye Olympics for Pride

Published: 11/06/2012 08:18:05 PM GMT
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MOGADISHU - Training in a bullet-riddled stadium and at the risk of being killed, Somali athletes are vying to join the London Olympics with a dream of creating a new image for their homeland after decades of violence and ana (more)

MOGADISHU - Training in a bullet-riddled stadium and at the risk of being killed, Somali athletes are vying to join the London Olympics with a dream of creating a new image for their homeland after decades of violence and anarchy.

"I would not be going there to win, but for pride," Zamzam Mohamud Farah told Reuters.

"I would be representing my flag, my soil and its people."

Farah is one of four Somali athletes vying for two slots guaranteed for Somalia at the London games.

She puts her personal best at around 58 seconds in the 400 meters.2012 Olympics: Ramadan Challenges & Opportunities

The Women's world record stands at 47.60, a gaping difference that leaves her unlikely to contest a podium finish.

Like many of her fellows, she trains in almost dilapidated conditions in a country rocked by more than two decades of violence and anarchy.

"Our facilities are poor,” Somali Olympic hopeful Mohamed Hassan Mohamed said.

Mohamed and his fellow athletes are training in the bullet-riddled Konis stadium in Mogadishu.

A year ago, the stadium was a base for Al-Shabaab militants, which were forced out from the capital last year by government troops and African peacekeepers.

“We don't have a modern training camp or a modern gym. We should replace our running shoes frequently. Instead, we wash them,” 20-year-old Mohamed said.

For now, the 1,500 meter specialist trains in relative safety, unless the security forces block off the surrounding area in advance of a government delegation on the move, forcing the athletes back onto the streets.

That means competing for space with patrolling armored troop carriers, donkey carts and mountainous piles of garbage. Roadside bombs have become a growing danger.

In April, a suicide bomber blew herself up at a ceremony in the city's national theater, killing the popular head of Somalia's Olympic committee and at least five others.

"The theater blast was a painful incident. It was a shocking day," Mohamed said.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

More than 14 attempts to restore a functional government have since failed.

High Dreams

Despite the situation in their home country, Somali athletes are determined to draw a better image of their country.

"Pump your arms. Pump your arms with power," urged the Somali team coach, Ahmed Ali Abukar, armed with nothing more than a stopwatch.

"Don't slow up. Keep going until you drop," he yelled as sweat gleamed on Mohamed's sinewy body.

Abukar earns a salary of just $150 a month. That comes out of a $2,000 per month pot from the Somali Olympic Committee (SOC) that pays for the four athletes' accommodation in a renovated school classroom, their food and transport costs.

Kadija Dahir, president of the Somali Athletics Federation, said a request to the SOC for a further $3,500 a month to fund the training of two athletes failed.

"We need money to produce quality athletes," Dahir said.

"With that money we wanted to do high altitude training in Ethiopia and buy better clothing and trainers."

Rarely able to travel to international meets, no Somali athlete qualified for the London Games outright.

Each national Olympic committee is eligible for two guaranteed places - one for a man, one for a woman - in athletics.

Somalia has never won a medal at the Olympic games.

Its best performance was in 1996 when its most renowned athlete, Abdi Bile, took sixth place in the 1,500 meters in Atlanta.

Somalia is not expected to announce the names of the two athletes who will compete in London until later this month.Unveiling their identities earlier might endanger their lives in a country plagued by kidnappings and targeted killings.

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net




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