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Against the Odds: Samiya Yuusf Omar PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 28 July 2008

The BBC's Against the Odds series is following athletes heading to the Olympics despite huge obstacles. Mohamed Olad Hassan, in Mogadishu, met a young sprinter representing conflict-wracked Somalia.

Somalia is a country ridden by more than 17 years of lawlessness and civil war. Its institutions and national infrastructure have been destroyed, including most sporting facilities.

Somali athlete Samiya Yuusf Omar is just 16-years-old. She comes from a destitute family with no breadwinner. Militiamen in this Muslim country often prevent her from training, saying women should not take part in sport. But for her and her relatives, athletics offers the chance of a route out of poverty and away from the violence; of a better life and prospects for the future.

Insults and warnings

But recently, Samiya has been coming under pressure from friends and some of her relatives, asking her to stay out of local training. The ill-disciplined militiamen intimidate her as she jogs on the streets of Mogadishu. There are insults, and warnings that her chosen path would affect her marriage.

Samiya said: "Traditionally Somalis view the girls as corrupted if they join in with things like sports and music.

"It's because they sometimes wear transparent clothes or shorts. Therefore I have been coming under pressure from all different sides."

"Early in the morning... sometimes I come to a roadblock set up by either government troops along with Ethiopians or armed militia, who prevent me from going to the training," she added.

Hopes for future

When she can get through, Samiya practises on a track full of mortar craters at the Mogadishu Stadium, almost destroyed by the years of war.

She lives nearby, in a shanty house, with her mother - a former national-level athlete, who brought her daughter up alone since Samiya's father died, "years ago".

Samiya says it is only her mother's constant encouragement that enables her to ignore the taunts and keep on training. When she was named as part of Somalia's Olympic team earlier this year, the honour kindled her hopes for the future. She never expected to be picked because she is so young, and because she is from a minority ethnic group.

Now the fragile dream of an athletics career is within reach, but Samiya still has a long way to go. She ran the 100m at the African Athletics Championships in May, but came last in her first round heat. This Olympics will be about taking part, rather than chasing medals.

"I don't care if I win right now," she said. "But I am happy to represent my country within this big event, running the 200-metre race

"I think right now I'm sure I'm on my way to a bright future because I can run with many all the way down.

"I don't think it makes a difference whether I win a good title in the coming Olympic Games or the next," she said, cracking into a smile.



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