The revolution disrupted her training but Hala Gezah’s ‘childhood dream’ of competing in an Olympics came true as the only Libyan woman at the 2012 London Games competed in the 100 metres.
Last year the 23-year-old’s sessions on a Tripoli track were thrown into disarray by the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Now she is posing for pictures with Olympics legend Usain Bolt.
“In 2008 we could practise as normal, but with the revolution it was very difficult,” said her coach Abdullah Zaho, wearing a top in the red, black and green of Libya’s new rulers. “Training was virtually non-existent. We were afraid. We had lots of problems, above all because there was no communication between us and the local federation, and the Libyan Olympic Committee had no money.
“That made our task difficult.”
The committee was run by Muhammad Qaddafi, one of the ousted ruler’s sons.
Before the London Games, Gezah had taken part in only one race this year, at the biennial African athletics championships in Benin. She did not meet the minimum requirement to reach the 2012 Olympics.
However, the International Olympic Committee’s principle of universal participation means every country can enter somebody into athletics and swimming.
On August 3, in the Olympic Stadium, the wildcard finished fifth out of nine in her heat in a time of 13.24 seconds, clocking the 23rd fastest time out of the 33 that took part in the preliminary round.
“I could have done better,” she admitted. “But I’m honoured to be the first female athlete to wear the colours of the new Libyan flag.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2012.