Runners Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Paul Tergat of Kenya have finished one-two in the 10,000 meters at the last two Olympics. No American has finished in the top five of the event since Frank Shorter finished fifth at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
American 10,000-meter runner Abdi Abdirahman was born in Somalia in 1977. His father, Mahamed, was employed as a petroleum engineer by Conoco, an American oil company. When the civil war in the country started to get worse, Conoco decided to get its employees out of Somalia.
So in 1989 at the age of 12, Abdirahman and his family came to the United States. He said it was a culture shock.
"It was the same as for everyone from a third world country who comes to the U.S. Everything was different - all of the big grocery shops, the roads were kind of different, the lifestyle, everything. I was shocked. It was culture shock," he said.
Abdi and his family settled in Tucson, Arizona, where he learned English and later graduated from high school. He had played soccer (football) in high school and joined the team at Pima Community College in Tucson, but he did not see much playing time. At the encouragement of a friend and his soccer coach, he turned his efforts to running.
Amazingly, in the first five mile run he took with the track team, only the best runner on the team was able to beat him. He went on to run for the University of Arizona, and he graduated from there in 2000 with a degree in retail consumer studies. Earlier that year, he got his U.S. citizenship and that enabled him to compete for the United States at the Sydney Olympics. There he finished 10th in the 10,000 meters.
While he knows he's not a favorite for a medal here in Athens, the 27-year-old Abdirahman says he won't hold anything back.
"I'll make sure I run smart, I'll run tough and I'll make sure when I leave the track I don't leave anything [any energy] on the track," he said. "When I leave that track I don't want to have any regrets and say, 'Oh, I should have done this, I should have done that.' I want to do everything that I can do."
Abdi Abdirahman knows that anything can happen at the Olympics. He points out the achievement of native American Billy Mills who shocked the world in winning the 10,000 meter Olympic gold medal in 1964, running a time 46 seconds faster than his previous best. Abdi has a videotape of that race with him at the Athletes Village.
"It's one of my favorite tapes. Every night in a routine before a race I watch that tape all the time," he said.
Abdirahman would like nothing better than to win a medal for the United States.
"America has done a lot for me. They paid for my education, my training, everything. So if I win a medal it's a way for me to say thank you to the country and the people who supported me," he said.
His mother, brother, and sister are here at the Olympics to support him and watch him run the 10,000 meters Friday night, 1950 UTC.
And he also will get support from those athletes from his native Somalia.
"I did meet a couple Somali athletes and their leaders. I talked to them. They support me and what I do," he said. "They're happy for me that I'm running for the U.S. and they say they don't have any 10,000 meter runners in their country, but they're going to come support me because I'm Somalian, so they're going go come support me, they say, Friday night."
Abdi Abdirahman says his training has been his best ever, and he believes he's peaking at the right time.