Berkeley CSUA MOTD:Entry 50951
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2022/05/27 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
5/27    

2008/8/25-29 [Politics/Foreign/MiddleEast/Iraq, Recreation/Activities] UID:50951 Activity:nil
8/25    Somalia's runners provide inspiration - Olympics - Yahoo! Sports:
        http://www.csua.org/u/m67
2022/05/27 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
5/27    

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Cache (8192 bytes)
www.csua.org/u/m67 -> sports.yahoo.com/olympics/beijing/track_field/news?slug=cr-somalirunners082408&prov=yhoo&type=lgns
Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia reacts after a heat of the women's 200-meter during the athletics competitions in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Tuesday, Aug. Somalia Sunday, returning to the small two-room house in Mogadishu shared by seven family members. Her father is buried there, the victim of a wayward artillery shell that hit their home and also killed Samia's aunt and uncle. It's about a girl whose Beijing moment lasted a mere 32 seconds - the slowest 200-meter dash time out of the 46 women who competed in the event. Thirty-two seconds that almost nobody saw but that she carries home with her, swelled with joy and wonderment. Back to a decades-long civil war that has flattened much of her city. Back to an Olympic program with few Olympians and no facilities. Back to meals of flat bread, wheat porridge and tap water. I am proud to bring the Somali flag to fly with all of these countries, and to stand with the best athletes in the world." There are many life stories that collide in each Olympics - many intriguing tales of glory and tragedy. 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. 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. 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. Like Samia, Abdi finished last in his event, overmatched by competitors who were groomed for their Olympic moment. Somalia has only loose-knit programs supporting its Olympians, few coaches, and few facilities. With a civil war tearing the city apart since the Somali government's collapse in 1991, Mogadishu Stadium has become one of the bloodiest pieces of real estate in the city - housing UN forces in the early 1990s and now a military compound for insurgents. That has left the country's track athletes to train in Coni Stadium, an artillery-pocked structure built in 1958 which has no track, endless divots, and has been overtaken by weeds and plants. "Sports are not a priority for Somalia," said Duran Farah, vice president of the Somali Olympic Committee. The war, the security, the difficulties with food and everything - there are just many other internal difficulties to deal with." That leaves athletes such as Samia and 18-year old Abdi without the normal comforts and structure enjoyed by almost every other athlete in the Olympic Games. They don't receive consistent coaching, don't compete in meets on a regular basis and struggle to find safety in something as simple as going out for a daily run. 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. Even Abdi faces constant difficulties, passing through military checkpoints where he is shaken down for money. And when he has competed in sanctioned track events, gun-toting insurgents have threatened his life for what they viewed as compliance with the interim government. "When we went back home, my friends and I were rounded up and we were told if we did it again, we would get killed. I had many phone calls threatening me, that if I didn't stop running, I would get killed. I think probably they realized we just wanted to be athletes and were not involved with the government." But the interim government has not been able to offer support, instead spending its cash and energy arming Ethiopian allies for the fight against insurgents. Other than organizing a meet to compete for Olympic selection - in which the Somali Olympic federation chose whom it believed to be its two best performers - there has been little lavished on athletes. While other countries pour millions into the training and perfecting of their Olympic stars, Somalia offers little guidance and no doctors, not even a stipend for food. "The food is not something that is measured and given to us every day," Samia said. 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. He laughs at this thought, with a smile that is missing a front tooth. Samia's start was slow enough that the computer didn't read it, leaving her reaction time blank on the heat's statistical printout. Within seconds, seven competitors were thundering around the curve in Beijing's Bird's Nest, struggling to separate themselves from one another. Samia was just entering the curve when her opponents were nearing the finish line. As the athletes came to a halt and knelt, stretching and sucking deep breaths, a camera moved to ground level. In the background of the picture, a white dot wearing a headband could be seen coming down the stretch. Asked how she will describe Beijing, her eyes get big and she snickers from under a blue and white Olympic baseball cap. "The stadiums, I never thought something like this existed in the world," she said. It will probably take days to finish all the stories we have to tell." Asked about Beijing's otherworldly Water Cube, she lets out a sigh: "Ahhhhhhh." Few buildings are beyond two or three stories tall in Mogadishu, and those still standing are mostly in tatters. Only pictures will be able to describe some of Beijing's structures, from the ancient architecture of the Forbidden City to the modernity of the Water Cube and the Bird's Nest. "The Olympic fire in the stadium, everywhere I am, it is always up there," Samia said. These are the stories they will relish when they return to Somalia, which they believe has, for one brief moment, united the country's warring tribes. Farah said he had received calls from countrymen all over the world, asking how their two athletes were doing and what they had experienced in China. On the morning of Samia's race, it was just after 5 am, and locals from her neighborhood were scrambling to find a television with a broadcast. "The good thing, sports is the one thing which unites all of Somalia." That is one of the common threads they share with every athlete at the Games. Just being an Olympian and carrying the country's flag brings an immense sense of pride to families and neighborhoods which typically know only despair. A pride that Samia will share with her mother, three brothers and three sisters. A pride that Abdi will carry home to his father, two brothers and two sisters. Like Samia's father two years ago, Abdi's mother was killed in the civil war, by a mortar shell that hit the family's home in 1993. "Because of us, the Somali flag is raised among all the other nations' flags. You can't imagine how proud we were when we were marching in the Opening Ceremonies with the flag. "Despite the difficulties and everything we've had with our country, we feel great pride in our accomplishment." The 200 wasn't nearly the best event for a middle d...