LONDON — Somalia’s two-person team did not win any honors at this year’s Olympics. But the country got a boost when one of its own, Somalia-born athlete Mo Farah, won the gold for Britain. Somalia itself has been at war for decades, which has hampered its Olympic chances.
Somalis' golden moment
When British runner Mo Farah crossed the finish line to win the 10,000 meter race, it was a triumphant moment for more than just Britain.
For the more than 100,000 Somalis living in Britain, it was their golden moment, too.
Farah, 29, was born in Somalia’s capital, a few years before it degenerated into violence. He moved to London at the age of eight. At the time, he barely spoke English.
He now lives and trains in the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon - an inland city that could hardly be more different from Somalia’s coastal capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia Olympic Committee Acting President Duran Farah - no relation to Mo - says Somalis around the world were thrilled by Farah’s success.
“We are very proud of him as he was running for the Somali flag as well as running for Britain," says Farah. "And I think every Somali person is very proud of him and what he did. We were all glad and cheering him as he is one of us. And he’s a very good role model for young athletes all over the world, especially for young Somali athletes.”
Somalia’s own competitors have had an uphill battle. The Olympic committee has too - Duran Farah only took over after his predecessor was killed in a suicide bombing in April.
The soccer association president was also killed in that bombing.
Farah says the country’s sport officials have nevertheless tried to keep the spirit alive, amid crumbling facilities and threats to numerous institutions.
“Sports has been one of those institutions," he says. "There was no single sports facility in this country and there was no functioning government during this time which was able to support the development of sports. But I think we’re very proud as the Somalia national Olympic Committee, we’ve kept the flag up all of those long years in conflict, we kept the flame of Olympic stability in this part of the world.”
He says officials have hope for the future.
“Hopefully if we get the right support and the right environment, we will be able to produce athletes who are competing for medals in the world champions [championships] and the Olympic games, but in the meantime and at the moment, it reflects on the situation of the country," says Farah.
Somalia has never won a medal at the Olympics. That’s hardly surprising. The Horn of Africa nation has been in a near-constant state of war since 1991. That’s the year when warlords killed dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
It doesn't help Somalia's Olympic chances that the nation is bordered by running powerhouses Ethiopia and Kenya.
These days, Somalia wrestles with anarchy and an Islamist militant group that formally allied with al-Qaida. That group, al-Shabab, has banned soccer, among other things. They also have performed public executions and a slew of deadly suicide bombings.
But in Britain, the patriotic flame burns strong.
Somalia fan Abdulrahman Mohamud was born in Mogadishu and came to Britain in 1995. He now lives in Stratford, in the shadow of an Olympic park. On a recent day, he sported head-to-toe Somalia paraphernalia, including a baby-blue jersey bearing the white star of Somalia.
“I’m very happy for this year, for 2012, and especially for the Somali team," says Mohamud. "I know it’s not much, only two people, but two people like this, it’s like 200 people, because you know Somalia, you know 22 years, there’s been no government, no peace, it’s war. So we are happy to see our flag, it doesn’t matter. Already Somalia has won the medal, I think.”
And it’s clear that Olympic fans appreciate the difficulties Somali athletes have endured to secure their place in the Games.
When 21-year-old runner Zamzam Mohamed Farah crossed the finish line a full 30 seconds behind the competition in her 400-meter heat, the entire Olympic stadium cheered for her.