Borrowed Glory

The Chairman of the Bahrain Athletics Association (BAA), Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was present in the stands near the finish line, ready to greet the winners from his country and pose with them for photographs. This truly reflected Bahrain’s policy with regard to the encouragement and development of athletics.

Ali Khamis, who won the silver in the men’s 400m, put the medal around Shaikh Khalid’s neck when he was introduced to the Bahrain prince.

“Khamis is our jewel,” said Mohammed Mubarak bin Daina, the International Relations Co-ordinator, in praise of the 18-year-old athlete.

The other Bahrain athletes greeted by Prince Shaikh Khalid were Dejene Regassa Mooto (men’s 5000m gold and 3000m steeplechase silver), Alemu Gebre Bekele (men’s 10,000m gold, 5000m silver), Tarek Mubarak Taher (men’s 3000m steeplechase gold) and Bilisuma Gelas Shumi (men’s 10,000m silver).

Appreciation is also due for Bahrain’s female distance runner, Shitaye Eshete ( in pic), who won the 10,000m gold, and Ruth Jebet, the 3000m steeplechase winner. All of them are born in Africa.

Bahrain’s domination in endurance events was the talking point of the AAC, as athletes from other nations struggled to keep pace with the immigrant running machines from Africa.

India’s Sudha Singh realised the futility of matching strides with Ruth Jebet in the 3000m steeplechase and settled for the silver medal. The Kenyan-born teenager, who clocked 9:40.84 for the gold, was named the ‘Best Athlete’ in the women’s section.

As part of the BAA project for the 2016 Rio Olympics, younger African athletes are waiting to be unleashed after a systematic training programme.

“As part of our long term plan, a group of younger athletes with potential will be kept away from competition till 2015, trained separately and will be seen on the international stage before Rio,” said Mubarak bin Daina.

The group includes Bahrain-born kids and the talent spotted in Africa that are Bahrain citizens (“locals”, as described by Mohammed Mubarak bin Daina).

“Bahrain is a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural country and has been like this for years. There is nothing in the IAAF rules forbidding anyone not chosen for one country competing for another,” Mubarak bin Daina said.

“Any person with a Bahrain passport is a local. The person can be originally from here or elsewhere. As long as he or she is loyal to the country, can mix with the people, it doesn’t matter where he or she is coming from,” he explained.

BAA believes it is helping athletes from other nations to make a living by inviting them to run for Bahrain. “We are not stealing older guys who have won medals for their nation. We get younger athletes and invest money and time on their training so that we can help them prove themselves in international competitions,” Mubarak bin Daina said.

He cites the case of Ethiopian middle-distance runner Maryam Jamal, who sought asylum from several countries after she was denied the chance to represent her nation. In the London Games, she wore the Bahrain colours and returned home to a royal reception after winning the 1500m bronze.

“Maryam was treated like a heroine on return with an Olympic medal. She was invited to meet the King. Here in Pune, the Bahrain ruler’s son was present to encourage our athletes,” Mubarak bin Daina said.

The African presence was also seen in the United Arab Emirates (Ethiopian-born Behem Belayneh Des, 5000m gold) and Qatar (sprinter Samuel Francis is from Nigeria).

Nandakumar Marar