World class athletes are not supposed to get props just for their effort. But Somalia’s Maryan Nuh Muse should be that exception.
On Saturday morning, she could not keep up with her heat in the first round of the Women’s 400 meters. So behind the rest of her peers, she didn’t stay within the frame of the NBC wide-angled cameras. Her time — 1:10:14 seconds — would not have even qualified for the Maryland high school girls’ 2A state finals.
She finished 57th out of 57 and yet, she was still called an “inspiration.” Because she is.
Muse, the 19-year-old who ran her race covered from head to toe in a sky blue head wrap and black leggings, continued a recent tradition of Somali athletes, particularly female, who defy the odds of their country’s conditions to appear in the Olympics.
She trains inside a stadium in Mogadishu once used for executions by a terrorist group, and runs on a gravel track where faint white lines are barely visible as lanes. In contrast, many American track and field athletes practice on synthetic track surfaces from their peewee AAU days.
Instead, she came of age during the height of the al-Shabaab, an extremist group linked with al Queda.
“Of the era of al-Shabaab, it was the worst,” Somali handball player Leila Samotold Geeska Afrika Online. “A girl could not run, could not even walk without wearing heavy robes.”
In 2012 a few months before the London games, Samia Yusuf Omar, a 200-meter sprinter who was part of the Somali delegation during 2008 Beijing Olympics, drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean. She was seeking better training conditions.
So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal Muse ran in Rio de Janeiro at all. On Twitter, she was celebrated as an “inspiration.”