Sat, Apr 07, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Somalia athletes training despite bombing deaths

AP, MOGADISHU

Somalia’s Olympic athletes defiantly returned to preparing for the London Games on Thursday, a day after the national Olympic committee president and another top sports official were killed in a bomb blast.

Four of the country’s five Olympic athletes were back in training at the rubble-strewn playground despite Olympic Committee President Aden Yabarow Wiish and football federation head Said Mohamed Nur being among 10 people killed in a bomb attack at the city’s theater on Wednesday.

Runners Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, Mohamud Ali, Ayan Samow and Amal Ahmed were visibly emotional when saying that the bombing, labeled an “act of barbarism” by the IOC, would not stop them going to the games — and honoring Wiish.

“Yesterday was utterly a black day for Somali[an] sports,” said Mohamed, who competes in the 5,000 meters. “As we have lost precious bosses who spent more time and energy in developing Somali[an] sport,” he said. “It was a terrifying moment. I did not sleep well all night. There was a nightmare, but one thing is for sure: that the work of Mr Wiish will be remembered.”

Athletics federation head Khadija Aden Dahir was also at the former school where the four Olympic hopefuls train — and where they sleep and live. She wept as she spoke of the two sports leaders who died in the suicide bombing, the responsibility of which was claimed by Islamist group al-Shabaab.

Samow, who is set to compete in the women’s 5,000 in London, and Ahmed also battled to control their emotions as they spoke.

“The hopes were high before the death of our beloved boss,” Samow said, “but our hopes were dashed in one moment.”

Ahmed added: “I have been weeping since yesterday.”

The tragedy was by far the worst in a series of setbacks for the athletes, who have barely any equipment and have to run along the dangerous main road through Mogadishu when they train. They jog past roadblocks of armed militia and security checkpoints, coach Ahmed Xog said, the site of suicide bombings and where dozens of civilians have been shot and killed.

However, the athletes also said they had renewed determination and were focused on proudly representing their country in London at sport’s biggest event.

The lost leaders, who were honored by the IOC and FIFA, were widely respected for their roles in trying to normalize sport in a country devastated by years of violence.

Wiish and Nur had just last week toured the national football stadium in Mogadishu, which is in the process of being renovated and brought into line with international standards: A small thing for many countries, but major progress for Somalia.

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