Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Somali Olympian

We haven't been able to see the Olympics here. We've seen a few still shots of Micheal Phelps on CNN and I've checked the pictures from a scrapbook lady living in Beijing. One of the national networks supposedly bought the rights, which was an 11th hour purchase, but the times they have listed on TV Guide are not correct. We've checked on and off everyday and have yet to see anything despite people saying its there. Perhaps it our satellite service. But today as I was closing out Yahoo I saw this article: Somalia’s runners provide inspiration and it made me cry. Jonathan laughed at me but truly this is the most tragic hopeful thing I've read in a long time.

These are some exerts from the article. I apologize to the author if I haven't cited it properly but I really thing the article is worth sharing.

It was Aug. 19, and the tiny girl had crossed over seven lanes to find
her starting block in her 200-meter heat. She walked past Jamaica’s
Veronica
Campbell-Brown
– the eventual gold medalist in the event. Samia had
read about Campbell-Brown in track and field magazines and once watched her in
wonderment on television. As a cameraman panned down the starting blocks, it
settled on lane No. 2, on a 17-year old girl with the frame of a Kenyan distance
runner. Samia’s biography in the Olympic media system contained almost no
information, other than her 5-foot-4, 119-pound frame. There was no mention of
her personal best times and nothing on previous track meets. Somalia, it was
later explained, has a hard time organizing the records of its athletes.
She
looked so odd and out of place among her competitors, with her white headband
and a baggy, untucked T-shirt. The legs on her wiry frame were thin and spindly,
and her arms poked out of her sleeves like the twigs of a sapling. She tugged at
the bottom of her shirt and shot an occasional nervous glance at the other
runners in her heat. Each had muscles bulging from beneath their skin-tight
track suits. Many outweighed Samia by nearly 40 pounds.

When Samia cannot make it to the stadium, she runs in the streets, where she runs into roadblocks of burning tires and refuse set out by insurgents. She is often bullied and threatened by militia or locals who believe that Muslim women should not take part in sports. In hopes of lessening the abuse, she runs in the oppressive heat wearing long sleeves, sweat pants and a head scarf. Even then, she is told her place should be in the home – not participating in sports.

The food is not something that is measured and given to us every day,” Samia said. “We eat whatever we can get.”
On the best days, that means getting protein from a small portion of fish, camel or goat meat, and carbohydrates from bananas or citrus fruits growing in local trees. On the worst days – and there are long stretches of those – it means surviving on water and Angera, a flat bread made from a mixture of wheat and barley.

Samia was just entering the curve when her opponents were nearing the finish line. A local television feed had lost her entirely by the time Veronica Campbell-Brown crossed the finish line in a trotting 23.04 seconds.

Suddenly, the half-empty stadium realized there was still a runner on the track, still pushing to get across the finish line almost eight seconds behind the seven women who had already completed the race. In the last 50 meters, much of the stadium rose to its feet, flooding the track below with cheers of encouragement. A few competitors who had left Samia behind turned and watched it unfold.
As Samia crossed the line in 32.16 seconds, the crowd roared in applause. Bahamian runner Sheniqua Ferguson, the next smallest woman on the track at 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds, looked at the girl crossing the finish and thought to herself, “Wow, she’s tiny.”

But it also gave us Samia Yusuf Omar – one small girl from one chaotic country – and a story that might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for a roaring half-empty stadium.

--Somalia’s runners provide inspiration
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports

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