Lifestyle & Belief

Samia Yusuf Omar reportedly drowned while traveling from Libya to Italy


Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia competes in the Women's 200m at the National Stadium on Day 11 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 19, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)


Stu Forster

A Somali Olympic runner reportedly drowned while traveling from Libya to Italy, according to the BBC.

That was back in April, before the Olympic games, but the international community is hearing about it for the first time this week.

The deputy chairman for Somalia's athletics Qadijo Aden Dahir told the Associated Press today, ‘‘It’s a sad death ... She was our favorite for the London Olympics.’’

Samia Yusuf Omar, 21, was a 200m sprinter who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Her story was, and still, is an inspiration.

She braved death threats from al-Shabab and trained in war-torn Mogadishu's Coni Stadium, a place al-Jazeera called "little more than a bombed-out shell whose so-called track was full of potholes."

Watch this video (from 1:16) and you'll see Samia's lean figure about 8 seconds behind the leader. (Sorry, no English.)

The Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera broke the story after Abdi Bile, a fellow Somali athlete, mentioned Samia's death.

"We are happy for Mo [a Somali runner] - he is our pride. But we will not forget Samia," Bile said. 

Samia Yusuf Omar's sister, Hodan, told the BBC's Newsday program what happened.

"She arrived in Libya in Sept. 2011; for several months we didn't hear from her when she was lost in the Libyan desert and detained there.

"Then she decided to go by boat, and we told her not to, and my mother tried to tell her not to. But Samia was very determined and asked for our mother's forgiveness, and my mother gave it, and she took the boat, and she died.

"Samia died in an incident when the Italian navy approached them when they ran out of petrol, and they asked for help, so the Italian ship threw some ropes over the side for them to catch and swim to the navy ship, but unfortunately she was one of seven people - six women and one man - who died trying to get on to the Italian ship by the ropes."