Wednesday August 11, 2021
By Ibrahim Omar Baafo, Harun Maruf
FILE - Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands crosses the finish line to win silver, with Belgium's Bashir Abdi, left, coming in third and Kenya's Lawrence Cherono placing fourth, in the men's marathon at the 2020 Olympics, in Sapporo, Japan, Aug. 8, 2021.
Somali-born Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye encouraged his friend to keep up the pace moments before the duo finished second and third in Sunday's men's marathon at the Olympics in Tokyo.
"Stay with me, we are going to make history! Don't fall behind," Nageeye urged Bashir Abdi, a Somali Belgian.
Somalia sent two athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games, but it was the Somalis running for their adopted countries who made headlines.
Somali-born Canadian Mohammed Ahmed won silver in the men's 5,000 meters, the first distance medal for Canada in this race. But the event that captured the attention of global audiences came in the final moments of the 42-kilometer marathon, won by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya with a time of 2:08:38.
Footage showed Nageeye encouraging his friend Abdi to cross the finish line with him. The two had trained together in France and in Ethiopia in preparation for the Games.
Speaking to VOA's Somali service by phone Tuesday, Nageeye said he wanted to help Abdi, who suffered a muscle cramp. With 3 kilometers to go, Nageeye said he again shouted at Abdi to keep up.
"'Bashir, stay with me. We are making history,'" Nageeye repeated in the interview.
Nageeye said his friend kept pace but fell behind again. He said television viewers only saw the race's final moments, but he said he encouraged Abdi three times late in the race.
Nageeye said he wanted to sprint for the last 800 meters but held off, waiting for Abdi, until the final 400 meters. Cameras captured Nageeye gesturing toward Abdi to keep up. Nageeye came in second, winning a silver medal with a time of 2:09:58. Abdi came in next, at 2:10:00, earning bronze.
"I was not doing it to be famous but was doing it for my friend and brother," Nageeye said.
"I risked my position," he said. "Even Bashir could have overtaken me or the Kenyan" — Lawrence Cherono, who finished fourth — "could have taken advantage of it. But I had that feeling; I did not want to leave him behind."
Helping his friend and competitor was instinctive, Nageeye said. "I knew something was wrong because he was also a little stronger than me in training, and he is a good athlete. Amazing that I did that. It was a natural reaction from me toward him because of our brotherhood, our heritage. We are both Somali. We are both friends. We train together."
The public's response left him happily surprised, Nageeye said.
"After one day, it was crazy. The whole world is talking about it. I just came from the king of the Netherlands — he was talking about it," Nageeye said of Willem-Alexander. "Every person is talking about that moment and not about my medal. I'm very happy for that."