These are the refugees forced to flee their homelands due to war and persecution who make up the first ever team of displaced athletes to compete at the World Championships.
With “no home, no flag and no national anthem”, the five-strong squad competes under the banner of athletics’ governing body, the IAAF.
Two of them will be in action on Thursday with Dominic Lokinyomo Lobalu, 18, and Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 22 — who both fled war in South Sudan as children — competing in the men’s 1500m and women’s 800m respectively.
They are keen to remind fans that they are athletes in their own right and had to achieve minimum race times required by the IAAF to qualify for the championships. Angelina Nadi, 23, who raced in the women’s 1500m heats on Friday, set a personal best while Ahmed Bashir Farah, 20, also achieved a personal record, finishing less than four tenths of a second behind the pack in the men’s 800m heats on Saturday.
After the competition, the team will return to their training camp home in the Ngong Hills, run by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.
The team was formed last February after founder and former long-distance runner Tegla Loroupe went into the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps where they once lived and held trials.
Last night Kadar Omar Abdullahi , 21, raced his hero Mo Farah in the 5000m heats, keeping pace with the pack and setting a personal best of 14.32.67. Farah’s time was 13.30.18, ensuring qualification in Saturday’s final, his last race before retiring from the track.
The athletes today told of wanting to inspire and highlight the plight of more than 65 million world-wide refugees.
All were separated from their families at a young age, with some still not knowing what happened to their relatives. Nathike Lokonyen found out only last week that her aunt had died as a result of the war in South Sudan.
The athletes and coaches have travelled to London thanks to flights and accommodation paid for by the IAAF. More than 25 refugees at the training base attempted to make the minimum times, with just the five qualifying. A refugee team competed at last year’s Rio Olympics, but this is the first time the five have competed at this level.
Founder Tegla Loroupe said: “Before we came we were received very well in Kenya by the British embassy. They made it very easy for us to come and compete and already we were made to feel at home by the British.”
Team manager Ladislav Demko, 43, a former triathlete, said: “Sport is a way out for them. When they step into the stadium, they don’t feel like refugees any more. These people literally ran away on their feet from fear of death.”
- Ahmed Bashir Farah, 20 Somalia, 800m
- Angelina Nadi, 23 South Sudan, 1500m
- Dominic Lokinyomo Lobalu, 18 South Sudan, 1500m
- Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 22 South Sudan, 800m
- Kadar Omar Abdullahi, 21 Ethiopia, 5000m
Ahmed Bashir Farah and his mother left Somalia when he was six and crossed the border into Kenya, where they found a home. But in 2014 his mother was deported, leaving him alone. Since then the athletics team has been like a family to the runner, who said: “We left because of the government situation there; there was no peace. My life has changed now that I can compete and I can see Mo Farah. He is my hero. It’s very emotional because I don’t know where my family are.”
Angelina Nadi was seven when she fled her native South Sudan. She has been in a refugee camp in Kenya since 2002. She said: “I went with a [distant] relative because the war broke out. I followed them to get to safety and for a chance to go to school. From that moment I lost contact with them [my immediate family]. Everything was destroyed where our house was.” She added: “I now have hope that one day I will attain the level of some of the other athletes.”
Dominic Lokinyomo Lobalu remembers soldiers storming his home in South Sudan before his family decided to flee the country’s civil war. After becoming separated from his family, he found himself in an orphanage. He does not like to go into the detail of his hardship, but he eventually fled to a refugee camp in neighbouring Kenya where he met his teammates. He said: “It has been difficult because my family dispersed and I have not seen my parents since I left. Running means I have a future.”
Rose Nathike Lokonyen fled her home in South Sudan at the age of eight. She and her family went to a nearby town in 2002 but then she and her nine siblings became separated from her parents. They eventually made it across the border to Kenya. She said: “I left home with my younger siblings but not my parents. It is horrible back home. I found out my aunt was killed last week. It is not safe.”
But she added: “I feel very excited to be here in London. Sport has given me a better quality of life.”
Kadar Omar Abdullahi left his native Ethiopia with his uncle and brother aged 13 and travelled to a refugee camp in Kenya, but does not wish to share his story. He said: “Mo Farah is someone I Iook up to and one day I want to be like him. It was horrible growing up and I had a lot of challenges, but running is something that has given me hope. I don’t know why we left home, but there is no fear now and I hope one day I will be a champion and that my dream will come true.”
The refugee team also partnered with Swiss sports company On, who supplied them with running equipment, clothes to compete in for the championships and specialised training sessions.