For many in Somalia’s war-torn capital, Mogadishu, running was something that was done only when fleeing bullets or exploding shells. But with a relative peace having been restored to the city, the few men and women comprising the Somali Athletics Federation train religiously, holding out hope for a wild-card place in this year’s Olympic Games in London.
During the time of al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamic militant group that ruled Mogadishu until African Union forces ousted them last August, runners such as Abdinasir Ibrahim – the Somali 5,000-metre champion – would dash across the front line in order to train, hiding behind moving vehicles as they traversed the conflict.
For female runners, training was even more difficult. Leila, a slight 15-year-old, had to hide her tracksuit beneath a burka until she reached a compound where she was secure enough to run. “The stadiums were closed because of the fighting,” she remembers.
The venue for their training is scarred by the years of fighting that enveloped Mogadishu. Konis Stadium was held by al-Shabaab until the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) retook the city.
Olympic hopes in Mogadishu were dealt a crushing blow last April when Aden Yabarow Wiish, the head of the Somali Olympic Committee, was killed in an attack by a female suicide bomber at the National Theatre. But despite this, the runners continue to train, hoping for a spot in London’s games.