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Somalian sports minister apologizes after slow 100-meter runner goes viral at university games

By Eve Sampson
Thursday August 3, 2023

Dancers perform Friday at the opening ceremony of the 2023 Summer World University Games in Chengdu, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Slow and steady does not win the 100-meter dash, a Somali runner demonstrated at the Summer World University Games in Chengdu, China, this week.

A clip of the race, from Chinese state TV, has since gone viral. As the rest of the fields crosses the finish line, Nasra Ali Abukar of Somalia, at one point completely out of frame, flounders nearly 10 seconds behind, finishing at around half the speed of her closest competitor. She crosses the finish line at a lackadaisical pace, appearing to skip as she does so.

The remarkable performance drew criticism — and raised questions about why the athlete, who did not give evidence of any background in elite athletics, was representing Somalia in the first place. She does not have an entry on the World Athletics database.

“It’s truly shocking and reflects poorly on our country internationally,” one user wrote on Twitter, now known as X, calling for resignations at the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The sentiment was widely shared.

On social media, users alleged that Abukar was the niece of a Somali athletics official — a claim that could not be verified independently. The Somali Athletics Federation has announced an investigation into Abukar’s inclusion, according to media reports.

Somalia’s Ministry of Youth and Sports did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Abukar is not the first Somali athlete in the spotlight for a slow performance in elite running.

At the 2016 Olympics, runner Maryan Nuh Muse finished the 400-meter event far behind her competitors with a time that would not have qualified her for some U.S. high school state finals. She was hailed as an inspiration for overcoming war, violence and extremely difficult training conditions to compete.

Somalia has sent runners to success on the world stage, including Ali Idow Hassan, who competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and placed second in a 1,500-meter event at an international meet in Djibouti this year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that runner Ali Idow Hassan came in third in a race in Djibouti. He came in second. The article has been corrected.