Samia Yusuf Omar: the Other Olympian

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Many thanks to Dick Gregory for sending me the story of Samia Yusuf Omar, who ran for Somalia in the 2008 Olympics, and whose death (in April 2012) was only reported by the world’s news media this month.

Omar competed at the 200 metres, finishing her heat about 40 metres behind the other runners.We are all familiar with the cliches of the Olympic athlete overcoming immense obstacles merely in order to compete, but in Omar’s case they had a basis in fact. She lived in Mogadishu, among six siblings in a two bedroom house, her family selling fruit and vegetables to survive. She trained without access to a running track, by jogging on the streets of the city. To avoid being harassed for wearing “men’s clothes”, Omar trained in a head scarf, long sleeve shirt, and sweat pants. She was one of only two Somalia athletes who competed at Beijing.

Omar tried to relocate to Ethiopia, after becoming a target for Islamist militia, but it seems that this move was unsuccessful. And earlier this year she died in an accident, while attempting to cross by boat from Libya to Italy. It is said that she had been hoping to find a coach in Italy and compete at London 2012.

The Somali athlete Abdi Bile, a former World Champion over 1500 metres, recently compared her situation to that of the Somali-born British athlete MoFarah: “We are happy for Mo – he is our pride … but we will not forget Samia.”

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