After defying expectations to secure his place on the USA Olympic marathon team, Abdi Abdirahman is at his fifth Summer Olympics. From leaving his country as a teenager to overcoming injuries, the journey to Tokyo has not been without its challenges.
Abdirahman is the oldest U.S. runner to make an Olympic team.
He’s 44 years of age, but if you asked his coach Dave Murray, he’d tell you that it’s 44 going on 18 .
It was in 2020 when athletics star Abdirahman turned back the clocks to qualify for his fifth summer Olympics.
Up against the odds, and going into the USA marathon qualifiers at 43 years old, the experienced runner surprised many when he emerged in the top three with a time of 2:10:03.
And for Abdi Abdirahman, overcoming adversity is nothing new, as we see looking back on the moments that led him to the Tokyo Games.
Abdi and family escaping war-torn Somalia
As a teenager, Abdirahman and his family made the decision to uproot their lives and move to the USA, away from the civil war in Somalia.
“Looking back, it was a nice village where I would play with my friends,” he revealed to Sportsmail .
“It was a normal neighbourhood, we played football, went to school.
“We did the normal things that normal kids do.”
“When you have a normal life, you have a job, income, you have food – you have everything you ever wanted.”
“Then you have to leave everything.”
He added : “You then don’t know where you’re going, you don’t have a plan. You don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow, or even five years. That was the hardest.”
Taking a chance on Abdirahman
When Abdirahman arrived stateside, he had minimal sporting background, especially in running.
He initially used it as a way of making friends.
“I just wanted to fit in with the boys,” he told CNN.
But then he met Dave Murray for the first time, who was an assistant coach for the University of Arizona.
“He was not any kind of a great runner in terms of scholarship material, but there was just something about him that I liked,” Murray said.
After watching Abdirahman run just a few times, Murray took a chance and recruited him, and the rest is, as they say, history.
In 1998, he was named the Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Male Athlete of the Year.
The year 2000, however, was perhaps the biggest of them all.
He became a U.S. citizen, qualified for his first Olympic Games and got his first big sponsorship deal.
All roads lead to Tokyo and the marathon
Abdi Abdirahman is set to become a fifth-time Olympian.
When he first made his Games debut at Sydney 2000, he finished 10th in the 10,000m on the track.
At Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, he would finish 15th.
The marathon at London 2012 saw Abdirahman unable to finish, due to knee injuries, and he would go onto miss Rio 2016 through injury too.
But now his time has come once again, and he’s motivated by those who doubted him.
“People counted me out,” he told USA Today .
“They never thought I was going to make the Olympic team, they thought I was too old, I was past my prime a long time (ago).
“And I’m glad they say that, because they just motivate me – they give me that little fire.”
After finishing third in the U.S. qualifiers, he’ll be hoping to exceed expectations once again when he runs in Tokyo.