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Bashir Abdi: from Somali refugee to Belgian Olympic bronze medallist

Tuesday August 10, 2021

The scenes of Bashir Abdi being encouraged on by his best friend and training buddy, the Dutch athlete Abdi Nageeye, as they both reached the finishing line will be one of the enduring memories of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Bashir Abdi’s bronze medal was the first medal for Belgium in the Olympic marathon event since Karel Lismont’s medal 45 years ago.

A great sporting achievement for a man that is delighted to be able to give something back to a country that he came to as a teenage refugee and that he is proud to call home.

"I always want to thank my new country by giving it a medal. At the European Championships I was successful and won silver and now I am on the podium at the Olympic Games. Hopefully more will follow in the future”.

But what about the past? Who is Bashir Abdi and how did he get to where he is? A couple of months ago Bashir Abdi was a guest in our nightly topical discussion programme ‘De Afspraak’. Then he said 

“I was 13 years old in 2002 when I arrived in Ghent (East Flanders) with my father, sister and brother. People know me from sport, my achievements as a runner, but few people know about my journey from Somalia to Belgium”. In an effort to change this Bashir’s Dutch teacher a book about his life.

"It was all new I didn’t speak the language; it was a completely different culture, and the weather was cold. First, I was in a football club because in Somalia the only sport on TV or in the paper is football. I didn’t even know that other sports existed.

Then I come into contact with athletic and that was something that greatly appealed to me. Running on my own and forgetting about everything that I had gone through gave me so much fulfilment. Society has helped me”.

A key figure in Abdi story is his mother "It is thanks to her that I came to Belgium. She has recognition as a political refugee, and she initiated a family reunification procedure. It took years before I was reunited with her”.

Bashir Abdi’s mother died of cancer in 2011. In the interview he told of what her last words to him were “She call us together on the final day of her life and said, ‘this country has meant so much to all of you, be good people’. She was the one that always supported me being an athlete while the rest of the family felt that it was a waste of time”.

When he was asked by our colleague Phara de Aguirre if he would be running for his Mum on 8 August, Bashir Abdi said “Absolutley, I hope that she will be looking down watch my performance from up there”. 


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