Robin Wright writes: Samia Yusuf Omar, who was lithe to the point of frailty, sprinted her way to momentary fame at the Beijing Olympics, in 2008. She was one of two athletes on the team from war-torn Somalia. Only seventeen, she’d had no professional coaching, and had dropped out of school in the eighth grade, after her father died, to help care for five younger siblings while her mother peddled produce. She practiced at a bombed-out stadium in Mogadishu. Female athletes were rare in Somalia, and she faced harassment and intimidation from Islamist militias. In Beijing, she dared to run without a hijab. Virtually no one in Somalia was able to watch her compete — no TV station carried the Olympics, and many Somalis had no television or electricity, anyway. Omar’s running shoes had been donated by runners on Sudan’s team.
Omar competed in the women’s two hundred metres, a middle-distance race. Beating her personal record, at 32.16 seconds, she still finished last — so far behind that the camera couldn’t keep her in the frame — but the crowd roared when she completed the race.
“We know that we are different from the other athletes,” Omar said in Beijing. “But we don’t want to show it. We try our best to look like the rest. We understand we are not anywhere near the level of the other competitors here. We understand that very, very well. But, more than anything else, we would like to show the dignity of ourselves and our country.” [Continue reading…]