Djibouti at the Olympics

Quick link: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

At EthnoTraveler you can read about my interview with Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti’s current hope for a medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics, in the 1500-meters.

I’ve been close to a few Olympians and in fact, while watching the track and field events, a former Djiboutian Olympian was staying in our house with us. We have become close friends. I once had an Olympian babysit my kids so Tom and I could go out on a double date with another American couple who also loves running. I once beat Shalane Flannagan. It was at a 5k in New York City. We headed into the port-a-potties at the same time. I made it out first.

And, I’ve trained on the same track as Ayanleh. Before he was a household name in this country, back when he was unknown but could still lap me. He called out encouragements to me and other slower runners. He remains as down to earth as he was back then and I loved sitting down with him at the Buna House Cafe a while back, to talk running and dreaming and being a role model.


Ayanleh Souleiman is Djibouti’s best hope for an Olympic medal in nearly thirty years. Athletes from this tiny nation have struggled to make even qualifying standards since Hussein Ahmed Salah won the bronze in the 1988 marathon, the country’s only medal.

Until Ayanleh. In 2016 he set an indoor 1000-meter world record. He won the Bowerman Mile in Eugene, Oregon two years in a row, while setting a meet record. He holds Djiboutian records in all distances from the 800-meters to the 5000.

Although Ayanleh failed to make the 800 final in Rio. He is still in contention for the 1500-meter final, which will be run on Saturday, August 20.

I’ve known Ayanleh since 2008 when I started to run and when he, reluctantly, made the switch from being a footballer to a runner. Ayanleh’s friends had urged the then sixteen-year old to enter a 5k race. The thought of running without kicking a ball sounded impossibly boring but Ayanleh relented. He placed fifth, with no official training.

Coaches convinced him to come to the Hasan Guleed Stadium to train and Ayanleh was soon leading groups of young men in laps around the track. At the time, I also trained at the stadium, though my training was more for health than competition and as Ayanleh would lap me, several times over the course of an afternoon, he often shouted, “Bon courage, Rachel!” While he could run two laps to my one, I felt stronger simply by proximity.

Click here to read: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

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