Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - Page 19 News List

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: Somalians defy war for Games spotlight

RUBBLE-STREWN TRAINING GROUND:The two runners had no track to train on, so they ran on roads where they were often mistaken for suicide bombers by guards


Zamzam Farah, left, and Mohamed Hassan, Somalia’s representatives to the London Olympics, pose for photographs at the Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Training on the bullet-riddled streets of Somalia’s civil war-wracked capital city, Mohamed Hassan Mohamed and Zamzam Ali Farah have defied war and terrorism to make the London Olympics.

In Mogadishu, it is not just very difficult to be an athlete — it is life-threatening. There are armed militias, jumpy gunmen and stray bullets. Suicide bombers can strike at any time.

Somali sport has often been affected by the constant violence that has crippled the country for two decades, but it was rocked to its core this year when the heads of the national Olympic committee and soccer federation were killed in a bomb blast.

And for middle and long-distance track athletes Mohamed and Farah, their everyday routine put them in daily danger.

Somalia has no working national sports stadium, just an abandoned old facility with no proper track. It forces athletes to run on the rubble-strewn roads — possibly the most dangerous in the world — where nervous government gunmen and terrorist militants roam.

“Imagine when you live in a country that hasn’t got a sports stadium,” said Farah, who will compete in the women’s 800m and 1,500m at London’s new Olympic Stadium — a stark contrast to where she has prepared. “We had nowhere to run and train except on the streets of Mogadishu at a time when the fighting was at its worst.”

“We still had to train and run, getting up very early in the morning, running past road blocks manned by armed militias. Sometimes the soldier on guard would mistake us for being suicide bombers or attackers, and order us to stop or they would shoot,” Farah said.

Sometimes they would also be detained for long periods by suspicious soldiers and abandon their training for the day. Sometimes it was too dangerous to go out at all.

The two runners are the troubled east African country’s only athletes at the London Games, but they said the risks were worth taking to realize their Olympic dreams.

“I really wish that I will win something because I have been training so hard,” Mohamed said.

He will run the 1,500m and 5,000m in London.

“We train in the morning and afternoon ... despite the fact that there are hardly any sporting facilities here,” he said.

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