Abdi Nageeye captured hearts worldwide with his Olympic marathon silver at the Tokyo 2020 which also resonated with refugee communities.
The celebrations spread across the Netherlands, his adopted home after escaping war in Somalia, and in Kenya, the long-distance powerhouse where he honed his running career.
The Tokyo silver was the Netherlands’ second-ever medal in the Olympic marathon event and another example for Kenya’s High-Altitude Training Camp to boast about.
My target is to win. I really believe now that I can – Abdi Nageeye ahead of the 2021 New York City Marathon
On November 7, the Dutch runner will pound the streets of the New York City Marathon for the first time seeking to end his season with a victory to add to his cherished Olympic medal, after proving that he can run with ‘the best in the world’.
“My target is to win. I really believe now that I’m good in the race where you have a championship field, where you aim for the podium. I have good sprints and confidence,” he told Olympics.com from his home in Eldoret, Kenya.
But, even more important for Nageeye, is cementing his role as a huge inspiration for the younger generations in Somalia.
Abdi Nageeye: From Somalia to the Netherlands
Aged six, Abdi Nageeye left Somalia with his brother for the Netherlands. After a four-year stint in Europe, the siblings left for Syria and returned home to Somalia. It wasn’t long before the teenager resettled back in the Netherlands with his adopted family via Ethiopia.
Like most boys, the young teen enjoyed playing football. One day, he laced up his running shoes for a 5km run, which he completed in a relatively fast 17 minutes.
That was in 2006. He turned out to be a good runner and was encouraged to exploit his new interest. A year later he debuted for the Netherlands, in a junior race, at the European Cross-Country Championships.
That marked the start of an athletics career that has seen Nageeye compete at European and World Championships, two Olympic Games and run marathons in major cities.
His national record and personal best of 2:06.17 at the 2019 Amsterdam Marathon remains ‘one of the best days’ of his life.
“That race gave me a lot of confidence. I ran that race with an injury from 33km, a lot of cramping on my hamstring. And it’s that confidence that I had until the Olympics,” he recalled of the race where he placed fourth.
Abdi Nageeye: The Olympic lesson in Rio and the medal in Tokyo
The run in Amsterdam fanned his ambition of making the podium at a major championship.
“I knew I was able to do something. I never showed it at the  European Championships, I didn’t prepare smart enough, but I knew I was able to run well and to win major marathons. But people want to receive the result at the finish line, and I was not able to do it.”
His Rio 2016 experience, where he finished 11th, counted for something when he lined up for the Olympic marathon in Sapporo.
When Eliud Kipchoge confirmed his greatness by clinching his second consecutive Olympic gold,only Nageeye came close.
Gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Team Kenya (L) hugs silver medalist Abdi Nageeye of Team Netherlands (R) after completing the men’s Olympic marathon in Japan. Picture by 2021 Getty Images
As they had done many times in training in Kaptagat, when he trained with Kipchoge, and his renowned coach Patrick Sang, the Dutch runner followed his lead when he broke away from the pack around the 30km mark.
“I knew I had this big chance with the whole world watching and I said I will show them what I can do.”- Abdi Nageeye on the silver at Tokyo 2020.
He created a near-perfect race, though it was a long and hard chase behind Kipchoge, his efforts were rewarded. Abdi took an Olympic silver medal with a season’s best time of 2:09:58.
“It was a long journey, the preparations… there were three Kenyans and three Ethiopians who are normally very strong…Then, there I was at the finish line, number two. It was a good feeling!”
The 32-year-old was cheered to the line in Sapporo by Kipchoge.
“When I was crossing the finish line, I was like, ‘We did it!’”
Abdi Nageeye: Inspirational legacy from Eliud Kipchoge
Nageeye may have shifted his training base to Iten, considered the cradle of Kenyan long-distance training, but the values he picked up from Eliud Kipchoge remain.
“He’s the greatest! Nobody can argue with that, he’s the greatest! From Eliud, I learned to take my time and focus on the progress. I learned the importance of discipline.”
Nageeye now trains remotely with Gary Lough, the coach of four-time Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah.
The British coach also coaches Somali-born Belgian Bashir Abdi who edged past Kenyan Lawrence Cherono in the home stretch for bronze at the Olympics.
“The whole of Somalia was watching us at that moment, and they were talking about us. Most of them started running because of Mo Farah and many will start now because of me and Bashir.”
It has been 13 weeks since the epic Olympic race and Nageeye is on the entry list for the New York City Marathon, looking to capitalise on his newfound fame and form.
“I think I will be in good shape as it is more of a championship race, if I was trying to run 2:04 [below the course record], it would not be possible. I’ll be ready.”
The Dutch half-marathon record holder who lives in the running town of Eldoret is giving himself every shot.
“I’m good in the race where you have this championship field, where you are just aiming for the podium. I have good sprints, confidence, I’m training well until now, so my goal really is to win this race.”
Abdi Nageeye: Motivation to be the best
The second-fastest man over the marathon Kenenisa Bekele leads the men’s field in the 2021 New York City Marathon that includes a handful of previous podium finishers.
Ethiopia’s Girma Bekele Gebre, third in 2019, and the 2016 New York champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea are both considered top-three contenders.
“I am just hearing one or two names but I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on training and to be as fit as possible at the start line. It’s only when I get to the athletes’ hotel [in New York], and I see the faces and say ‘OK, you are there, and you too,’ and then I will make my plan,” said the marathoner who ran the Boston Marathon twice finishing 7th in 2018.
Just like at the Olympics, his motivation to win his debut New York Marathon runs deep.
“In Somalia, our last world champion was in 1987, that’s Abdi Bile and they just know him. That’s it. They even named a popular Toyota pick up after him, the Abdi Bile car,” he explained.
Bile, the 1996 Olympian, is Somalia’s most decorated athlete in history and still holds several national records.
“In Somalia, they don’t know much about running… The civil war put a pause on everything. So, it’s up to us to educate them, help them to understand and practice sport. Not only those in Somalia but the Somali community around the world.”