China and the United States might have been dreaming of topping the medal table, but one country was already a winner before the London Olympic Games started on July 27.
It was difficult to hold back the tears for the two athletes in Team Somalia — Zamzam Mahmuud Farah and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed Tayow — and their country’s Olympic chief Duran Farah, during the opening ceremony.
The athletes, accompanied by their coach, were given a warm send-off and welcome at the airports in Mogadishu and London.
Top Somali government officials, including the mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Nur Tarsan, saw off the athletes in Mogadishu.
Overcoming the myriad hurdles in the war-torn country to qualify for the world’s largest sporting event is a clear manifestation of how the spirit of the Olympic games is more about participation than winning medals.
The two strong-willed athletes trained in a challenging environment with modest facilities at Konis Stadium, that has been ravaged by years of war and shelling.
The athletes are scheduled to compete on August 3, with Farah running in the 400-metre race and Tayow in the 1,500-metre race.
No Somali athlete qualified for the games, but each national Olympic committee is entitled to two places in athletics, one for a man and one for a woman.
Farah said the responsibility was great, but promised to do her best and use the Games to help solve political problems in Somalia.
“It goes without saying, sports unites people as it plays a big role in bringing rival clans together,” Farah told the Somali media.
“I say to the Somali people: Thank you very much for your support to us, and we will shoulder our responsibility,” she said with tears in her eyes.
On her arrival at the Olympic Village, Farah told reporters that the teams hopes to show the world that they have weathered the storm of war.
“We shall be running for pride rather than medals. We are already victors just by making to the Olympics.”
Tayow said they were certain of victory for their country. “I am very, very happy to be representing my people, country and flag at the London 2012 Games.
This year people are united in supporting us and Somalis everywhere expect victory of us.”
“The government, the sports officials, the people of Somalia and the media have given us total support,” Mr Tayow said.
It was an emotional time for Somali Olympics committee president Duran Farah, whose predecessor Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were killed, along with at least five other people, in April when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a ceremony at Mogadishu’s national theatre.
In spite of the tragedy, Somali sports federations have remained resilient and organised events to honour the sports heroes.
“We will be remembering our fallen comrades,” said Farah.
Head coach Ahmed Ali Abikar said it was very difficult for female athletes in Mogadishu to train, and Farah is lucky because most girls in Somalia do not enjoy such freedom.
“Succeeding is not only finishing first or second, success is as well attaining the status of having participated in the Olympics, that feeling of belonging to the athletics community. However, I am hopeful that we can be among the best.”
Already, both the mayor of Mogadishu and the prime minister of Somalia regularly express their desire to promote sports for men and women. Girls in Mogadishu can play basketball, handball and take part in athletics.
However, Abikar has learnt to deal with the disappointment of talented runners moving abroad to seek better opportunities.
Samia Yusuf Omar, the girl he trained to run for Somalia for the Beijing Olympics, now lives in Ethiopia, having made contacts through her training.
Mo Farah, one of Britain’s top Olympic athletes, whose family fled Mogadishu shortly before the fall of the Said Barre’s regime, is perhaps the most high profile example of Somalia’s loss.
Osman, a 66-year-old security guard at Konis Stadium, says he has not missed one day of work in the past 21 years, and has bandages covering the bullet wounds on his left arm and right ankle to show for it.
He will be watching team Somalia on TV.