Olympic athlete Zamzam Mohamed Farah, in purple scarf, trains in Moagdishu for the 400-meter women’s track and field event. (Photo courtesy of the American Refugee Committee)
What she lacks in medals, she makes up for in pluck.
Zamzam Mohamed Farah isn’t a household name for most Olympics fans. She’s one of two athletes — the only two — to represent war-weary Somalia in London.
Farah is not considered a serious contender in the women’s 400-meter. She runs Friday (6 a.m. CST) in the first round. But she said she’ll do her best.
“I came from a country of 21 years of civil war,” she said through a translator in a short phone interview from London. “I hope I will win, inshah’Allah [God willing]. That is what I am expected to do, so that I can change the narrative of Somalia.”
Her East African country is known more for gun fights and famine than gold-medal hopes. She and her teammate, Mohamed Mohamed, had to dodge bullets, literally, during their practice runs. The athletes called their running route in Mogadishu “the road of death,” according to this report from the UK’s Channel 4 news.
“We had nowhere to train except on the streets of Mogadishu when the fighting was at its worst,” Farah told the Scottish Express newspaper last month. “We had to run past road blocks manned by armed militias who sometimes mistook us for suicide bombers and threatened to shoot us.”
Farah and Mohamed, who is running the men’s 1,500 meter, spoke to me at a shopping mall just outside the Olympic Village, where they received the celebrity treatment from onlookers seeing autographs.
It was their first time in a Western country, said Said Sheik-Abdi of the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee. The ARC is helping lead the Somali team’s worldwide fan following on Facebook. For every “like,” post, or share, $1 will go toward critical aid for Somalia.
No matter how the two athletes fare on the track Friday, Farah knows that simply getting to London is something to be proud of.
“The most important thing is being able to carry the Somali flag with 203 other countries in the Olympics. That in itself is success,” she told me.
It shows the world, she said, that “Somalia is not dead. It’s alive.”