Quick link: The Long Run

Meet Kadra Mohamed Dembil, an obscure athlete from an obscure country,
racing for more than gold
The Long Run

By the time Kadra Mohamed Dembil went to the Junior Olympics in Nanjing China in 2014, when she was seventeen, expectations of female Djiboutian runners were clear. Last place. Maybe second to last.


She would be that final struggling athlete from a poor, obscure nation with a name people have never heard and can’t pronounce. The one spectators clap for in a semi-inspired, semi-pitying way, cheering home the biggest loser. Such a runner, reeled in by the cheers of the crowd long after the other athletes have cooled down and begun interviews, is encouraged. But she is also sometimes embarrassed.


Before Kadra’s time, Djibouti sent Roda Wais to race in the Sydney Olympics, in 2000. After placing dead last in the 800-meter race, she defected, with the help of a Somali Australian. Eventually she married an Australian, had children, and never competed for her country again. In 2004, Djibouti sent no athletes to the Olympics. In 2008, Djibouti sent Fathia Ali Bouraleh to race the 100 meters in Beijing. Fathia false started. And, on the second attempt, she was so nervous from the false start that she ran one of her slowest races of the year. She placed last in her heat, her time the second slowest overall. In 2012, Djibouti sent Zourah Ali to race the 400 meters in London. Like Fathia, she finished with the second slowest overall time, faster only than Zamzam Mohamed Farah of Somalia, Djibouti’s neighbor to the east. No female Djiboutian had yet won a medal for her country. None had ever even advanced beyond the first heat in a major international competition.


Kadra knew the history of female Djiboutian athletes and, for her international debut at the Junior Olympics, she had something else in mind. She knew she couldn’t win, but she had no intention of finishing at the back of the pack. She was determined to launch a new era of female racing in Djibouti. She wanted a race with her name on the announcer’s lips. She didn’t know if that kind of race was possible, but Kadra wasn’t going to Nanjing to aim for last place…

Click here to find out how Kadra does in Nanjing and read the rest of The Long Run