Omar Hassan at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
A five-strong Athlete Refugee Team (ART) competed at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, where great experience was gained, on and off the field of play.
Athletes Mohammad Amin Alsalami, Omar Hassan, Fouad Idbafdil, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith and Perina Lokure Nakang were joined by head coach Janeth Jepkosgei and ART manager Rotem Genossar in Hungary.
As well as providing an opportunity for athletes to compete on the world stage, the championships – following collaboration between World Athletics, the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committee of Kenya and Athletics Kenya – offered other ways for ART members to get involved.
The athletes visited the local UNHCR headquarters and went on a tour of Budapest to learn more about the event host city.
They also attended events at the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA) exhibition, where Lohalith donated her winning singlet from the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country in February. That win in Oropesa del Mar marked the first time that an ART athlete had claimed victory in an international competition. Jepkosgei, the 2007 world 800m champion, was also honoured with a World Athletics Heritage Pin.
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
Ahead of the championships it was announced that ASICS had become the official sponsor of the Athlete Refugee Team and in Budapest the athletes visited ASICS House, where they received kit for training and competition.
The team members also took part in a safeguarding and Athletics Integrity Unit awareness session, and gained experience of being interviewed by international media, before the team was invited to lunch by the Olympic Refugee Foundation on the final day of the championships – a special moment that demonstrated the commitment and joint efforts for a common cause.
Idbafdil was the first of the team members to take to the track and the 35-year-old, making his second appearance at the World Athletics Championships, competed in the men’s 3000m steeplechase heats on the opening day.
Fouad Idbafdil in training at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23
“At the starting line, I felt strong and motivated for the tactical race,” he said. “I competed as planned and I am satisfied with my result. The memorable moment for me is entering the spectacular stadium, which just makes you dream.”
There was lots of activity for the team on Wednesday 23 August, as first Nakang raced in the women’s 800m heats, then Alsalami contested men’s long jump qualification and Lohalith ran in the women’s 5000m heats.
Mohammad Amin Alsalami at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
The last day of the event featured the men’s marathon, with Hassan clocking 2:17:23 to finish 41st. Tachlowini Gabriyesos had been due to join him, but was unable to travel to Budapest due to illness.
“I had a wonderful time here in Budapest,” said Hassan, who fled from his native Ethiopia to Denmark in 2014 and ran his personal best of 2:12:29 in Valencia last December. “Especially meeting the ART members and watching the men’s 1500m and 100m finals. I debuted in my first World Championships marathon and did my best in the heat. It was a wonderful experience.”
Alsalami, who is a native of Aleppo, Syria, has been living in Germany since 2015. In Budapest he became the first refugee athlete to compete in a technical discipline at the World Championships.
“The World Championships was a great event for me, and I gained a lot of experience,” said the 29-year-old. “I will never forget the moment, entering the full stadium together with the best athletes in the world. That was such a great feeling.
“I am a bit disappointed with my result – I really wanted to make the final and I knew I was ready. However, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to World Athletics for giving me this opportunity.”
Nakang, who was a member of the first World Athletics U20 Refugee Team programme and is coached by Jepkosgei, was also inspired by her fellow athletes.
“My happiness is to be part of the team in Budapest,” said the 20-year-old native of South Sudan. “Seeing other athletes from different parts of the world makes me train harder. I really want to be like Mary Moraa and Athing Mu.”
Perina Lokure Nakang at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
Reflecting on the championships, Jepkosgei added: “The team leaves here more motivated, and they see a door open for them.
“Come 2024, we can make lots of improvement. Our last born (Nakang), has learned a lot from the experienced athletes. She goes home and Saturday she’s having a meeting with the group in Kakuma Refugee Camp to encourage the rest.”
Genossar said: “I am lucky to have been a part of this project as team manager since the 2019 World Championships in Doha. We expect from our team improvement at every championship. The World Athletics Championships in Budapest was another big step forward for the Athlete Refugee Team, both on and off track.
“I felt in Budapest that we were more organised as a team. On track, we had more professionals, coaches, and strategic planning. Off track, we used the championships to strengthen our relationship with our partners from the UNHCR, IOC, and the federations. And we fulfilled our humanitarian mission to represent more than 90 million refugees and displaced children, women and men worldwide.”