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Mohammed and Nait-Hammou ready for their Athlete Refugee Team debut

Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus (Jiro Mochizuki)Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus (Jiro Mochizuki) © Copyright

Otmane Nait-Hammou is a native Moroccan now living in Stockholm. Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed is from Sudan, currently living in Israel. The pair's very different life paths will converge tomorrow here in Aarhus where they'll make their debut as teammates on the Athlete Refugee Team.

"Just to be here, is something very special," said Nait-Hammou, who began running in his hometown of Agadir at the urging of a friend. "I've never been in a world championship. It'll be exciting to feel being on the start line - and to also come to the finish line. And to do my best, of course."

Hammou said he made the difficult decision to leave his homeland in 2015 for a host of complicated reasons which finally conspired to force him into a search of a place where he simply "better fits". He found that through sport.

 

Athlete refugees Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus with IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Jiro Mochizuki)Athlete refugees Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus with IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Jiro Mochizuki) © Copyright

 

"I really feel that I fit well with running, with sport."

Mohammed was 10 when his father was killed by the Janjaweed militia during a raid of their village of Barde in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region in 2003. It was burned to the ground before the militia departed. Eight years later he finally fled the violence, heading first to Egypt before crossing the Sinai Desert on foot to Israel.

The reasons people have to leave home are as numerous as there are people forced to flea.

He eventually found work in Tel Aviv, earning a modest living while helping to support his mother, two brothers and a sister who are living in a refugee camp back home.

But Mohammmed also considers himself a full-time runner, a passion he discovered in 2014, when his best friend urged him to join the Hasimta Alley Runners club. About a year ago, he began a seven-day-a-week training regimen that's beginning to bear fruit. Running for his Tel Aviv club, Mohammmed finished 40th in his European Champion Clubs Cup debut in 2017, 30th in 2018 and 22nd in the 2019 edition on 3 February in Albufeira, Portugal. Nineteen days later he improved his road PB to 29:37 when he finished second in the 10km in Tel Aviv.

 

Athlete refugees Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus (Jiro Mochizuki)Athlete refugees Otmane Nait-Hammou and Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed in Aarhus (Jiro Mochizuki) © Copyright

 

"There is a big difference between the European club championships and the world championships, but it's ok, I will do my best here." 

Nait-Hammou doesn't have quite the same credentials, but he's closing in. He began running in 2012 at 17, and in recent years, like Mohammmed, balances his running with a full-time job. And, also like his teammate, he arrives in the best form of his life, on the heels of a 30:30 10km PB he ran in Paris last weekend.

"I plan to do my best, of course," Nait-Hammou said. "But just to be in the same race with these great runners that I only know from watching them, it will be a very special feeling."

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF