Zamzam Mohamed Farah carried the blue Somali flag in front of a global audience of more than one billion people in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics 2012. The mere sight of the blue Somali flag being waved in this great sporting occasion had brought tears of joy to millions of Somalis who have known nothing but war, famine and displacement for the past twenty or so years. As we all glued to the TV screens, it was obvious the slightly-built athlete from the most bombed city on earth was no match to the more muscular competitors in her lineup. The race was won before Zamzam’s one had started in earnest. Indeed, nobody was expecting Zamzam to win a medal, but the fact that she participated in the race and, indeed, finished is a consolation for a country whose people were busy tearing each other into pieces for the best of the last two decades.
In the 400 meter race, Zamzam has not only finished distant last but her time was so slow that TVs cameras could afford to show the winner’s celebrations and still had plenty of time (30 seconds to be precise) to cover the staggering finish of her race. She finished a distant last. The disappointing finish of Zamzam demonstrates the huge gulf between her country and the rest of the world in every conceivable walk of life. This is the cost of a destructive and debilitating twenty-one year civil war that decimated the entire fabric of the nation, both economically and socially. Sports, in particular, had taken a severe beating during the civil war to the extent that the Chinese-built state-of-the-art sports facilities in the outskirts of Mogadishu were reduced to mere rubbles, and later had to become a base for the despicable and deviant Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda affiliated terror group.
Before the last central government of Siyad Barre was violently brought down by clan-based militias, Somalia has excelled in athletics by producing a world class athlete in Abdi Bile who won gold in world championship in Rome in 1987, the first ever medal of any sort by a Somali athlete. In that particular race, Bile won the 1500m World Championship in style, running the final 800m of the race in 1:46.0, the fastest final 800m of any 1,500 meter race in history. He was a two-time Olympian (1984 and 1996) and dominated the event in the late 1980s. Bile was ranked first in the world at the mile distance in 1989. He was World Cup champion in the 1500m in 1989 and two-time world Grand Prix final champion. Had we not lost our country to clannish thugs, ruthless warlords and religious zealots Somalia could have easily produced many athletes in the same caliber as Abdi Bile.
Despite finishing last, Zamzam Farah should hold her head high in the knowledge that many stable and wealthy countries in the Arab world did not fare well in their respected races. The Qatari women in the 100m sprint race did not even get off the mark as she suffered from a hamstring. Judging the way she got off the blocks, she would have finished last anyway. The 17 year old Saudi Judo competitor was beaten in eighty two seconds, a record in the competition, while the Afghani woman in the 100m sprint race finished distant last in her race. Moreover, the competitor from our tiny neighbor, Djibouti, has also finished last in her race. So, it was not only Somalia that got battered in the London Olympics, but many Arab and Muslim countries were beaten in spectacular fashion after their competitors, mainly women, had either finished last or failed to make the finishing line.
However, there is one big consolation, perhaps elation for Somalis. The Somali-born Mohamed Farah, better known Mo Farah, has won gold for Britain, his adopted country, in the 10,000m race. He is also the favorite to win gold in the 5000m race, expected to take place later tonight. His memorable and sweet victory in this race was even more spectacular as the lineup was included Kenenisa Bekele Beyecha , the most accomplished runner and the world and Olympic record holder in the event, a man who dominated the world stage in the 10,000m distances since 2004 Sydney Olympics.
If the state-building endeavor currently taking place in Mogadishu is successfully completed and a government for all Somalis takes root, who knows we could be watching an Olympic champion in Brazil in four years time.
Mohamed F Yabarag
Somali Writer and Political commentator.