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Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 15:26 UK

Against the Odds: Samiya Yuusf Omar

Samiya, close up
Samiya, 16, says she has been pressured to stop competing

The BBC's Against the Odds series is following athletes heading to the Olympics despite huge obstacles.

Mohamed Olad Hassan, in Mogadishu, met a young sprinter representing conflict-wracked Somalia.

Somalia is a country ridden by more than 17 years of lawlessness and civil war.

Its institutions and national infrastructure have been destroyed, including most sporting facilities.

Somali athlete Samiya Yuusf Omar is just 16-years-old. She comes from a destitute family with no breadwinner.

Militiamen in this Muslim country often prevent her from training, saying women should not take part in sport.

But for her and her relatives, athletics offers the chance of a route out of poverty and away from the violence; of a better life and prospects for the future.

Insults and warnings

But recently, Samiya has been coming under pressure from friends and some of her relatives, asking her to stay out of local training.

Samiya runs in a stadium in Ethiopia
Samiya came last in her African championships heat

The ill-disciplined militiamen intimidate her as she jogs on the streets of Mogadishu.

There are insults, and warnings that her chosen path would affect her marriage.

Samiya said: "Traditionally Somalis view the girls as corrupted if they join in with things like sports and music.

"It's because they sometimes wear transparent clothes or shorts. Therefore I have been coming under pressure from all different sides."

"Early in the morning... sometimes I come to a roadblock set up by either government troops along with Ethiopians or armed militia, who prevent me from going to the training," she added.

Hopes for future

When she can get through, Samiya practises on a track full of mortar craters at the Mogadishu Stadium, almost destroyed by the years of war.

She lives nearby, in a shanty house, with her mother - a former national-level athlete, who brought her daughter up alone since Samiya's father died, "years ago".

Camp for displaced people in Somalia
Somalia has been damaged by years of civil conflict and lawlessness

Samiya says it is only her mother's constant encouragement that enables her to ignore the taunts and keep on training.

When she was named as part of Somalia's Olympic team earlier this year, the honour kindled her hopes for the future.

She never expected to be picked because she is so young, and because she is from a minority ethnic group.

Now the fragile dream of an athletics career is within reach, but Samiya still has a long way to go.

She ran the 100m at the African Athletics Championships in May, but came last in her first round heat.

This Olympics will be about taking part, rather than chasing medals.

"I don't care if I win right now," she said. "But I am happy to represent my country within this big event, running the 200-metre race

"I think right now I'm sure I'm on my way to a bright future because I can run with many all the way down.

"I don't think it makes a difference whether I win a good title in the coming Olympic Games or the next," she said, cracking into a smile.


Your comments on this story:

Samiya, All the power to you! Your story is an inspiration. You one gold medal winner in my eyes.
Julie, Palmdale Ca

Good Luck Samiya! You may only be 16 but you are an inspiration to so many young women as you train against such difficulties.
Angela Mosimann, Sherbrooke,Canada

That is part of life that most of we africans go through be it Education!but we survive because we are hardworking and we need to survive .For Samiya, that is absolutely perfect and very good and I know that she is going to provide the suprises and the delight.am not a Somali but i like Africa any one who represents Africa represents me. Samiya am your fun and i pray for you,you will make it! I hope this message finds you
Eddy , Kampala, Uganda

Thank you for this very touching, beautiful story.
lynn , usa

There seems to be no obstacle to stop you from succeeding, Samiya. I will be looking forward to seeing you compete and win, without a doubt. Best wishes from America!
Gabriel Garcia, Eagle Pass, TX (USA)

I commend Samiya (a 16 year old girl) for continuing to practice and train when the militia or others try to intimidate and shame her. It can not be easy. I wish her well.
Ana maristany, Baton Rouge, LA, USA

Samiya, what a brave girl you are! I cannot imagine what it'd be like to be in your shoes and the fact that you are so determined to represent your country despite the crisis shows the extent of your commitment...it's a truly noble gesture! You go girl & I'll be rooting for you come the Olympics :)
Jennifer Mwangi, Embu, Kenya

Achievement is only made possible by the efforts of you and only you . It is a good start for a young lady like you. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heart felt wishes to u in this Olympics and your future carrier.
Melkamu Hunegnaw , Malaysia

This is what the Olympics is really about. Nevermind all the over the top national self-promotion (it was the Nazis who started the whole 'olympic torch' relay thing), commercialism, kickbacks and corruption. It is the stories and experiences of inspirational young athletes like Samiya which are truly representative of the 'Olympic spirit'. Good luck Samiya!
Sam, Hong Kong

Just to have had the heart to train and compete and to ignore the cultural implications of being a Muslim girl competing in athletics, makes her already an Olympic winner - it is the heart of the Games. Congratulations to you Samiya and your family - your mother has obviously been a great role model in your difficult circumstances.
Helen Allen, Wapiti USA

Samiya's story is inspirational. For someone so young, fighting against such odds takes a special kind of person and an immense amount of courage. I hope she stays strong and focused. The Olympic experience will be fantastic for her. Best wishes.
Alison Ifill, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago.

Samiya, i think you have prove all your critics wrong, so just hold your head up high and pursue your dream.As you said, you are running for experience but not for the medals, i will encourage you to also aim for the medal cos it will help you to work harder. more gress to your "elbows".
perpetual annan-takyi, Accra,Ghana

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