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When little-known athlete Braima Dabo from Guinea-Bissau left his training camp in Porto, Portugal, to compete at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, it never crossed his mind that he would make international headlines. He won no medal but his sportsmanship in the men’s 5000m heats captured the hearts of many that first day of the World Championships.
Some would call it destiny but, not many people know what had happened behind the scene. It all started when Dabo, 26, was checking-in at his team hotel, the Ezdan. An athlete unknown to him, Jonathan Busby from Aruba, was also checking in at the same time. Busby greeted him and asked him if he was the athlete from Guinea-Bissau to which he responded “yes”, and they smiled. In fact, they both realised that they were competitors in the same discipline.
The next time that they met was in the call room getting ready for their heat. The race began but in the final lap, Dabo who was ahead of him, saw Busby close to collapsing decide to help the finish line- which they did together even though they did so more than four minutes behind the rest of the field. Few, if any in Khalifa International Stadium or watching on TV were left unmoved, making this one of the most memorable moments from Doha 2019.
Who is Braima Dabo?
The 26-year-old comes from Catió in the small Portuguese-speaking west African nation of1.8 million. His father is a retired inspector of education with a family of two wives and 9 children, all living in the same house.
The only athlete to represent his country at the World Championships, Dabo was not predestined to take on athletics. He has always loved the sport but, he had to walk approximately 6 kilometres between his home and his school. So, he was exempt from physical education in order for him to get back home!
By chance, in 2011, a Portuguese NGO, Na Rota dos Povos, working in Guinee-Bissau to help develop educational facilities in the country, began a project called “Education is the only way”. Seven girls and eight boys from Catió were selected to study in Portugal for three years, Dabo among them.
In his host country, he attended a professional high school and since he was living on campus, he was able to participate in physical education. In 2014, he completed high school, decided to pursue a degree in management and joined a local club, Bragança, so that he could run “seriously” simply because he loves the feeling of running.
Two years ago, he has started training under coach José Regaloin the Maia Atlético Clube and his training group, JR88, encouraged him to enter a competition. However, he never imagined doing so at international level with his modest performances. But destiny again had other plans when he was offered his nation’s sole team spot, which he accepted with pride.
He knew that his chances of a medal were slim but that did not discourage him. While he did not receive a medal, the applause that he received for his sportsmanship from the stadium crowd was something that he never imagined.
Why did he help Busby, an athlete he barely knew?
“Because I felt that we had the same objective - that of finishing the race. And if it had happened to me, someone else would probably have done the same for me.”
What surprised him though, was the reaction towards something that to him, was the natural response. From that moment, he became one of the unexpected heroes of the championships.
A day before leaving for Portugal, he said that the most memorable moment from his experience in Doha isthat he has won a friend for life through Busby. He was also extremely touched by the local hospitality. Asked about what more the sport could do for him, he said, “Develop more training for athletes and give us more opportunities to show what we are capable of accomplishing.”
Dabo expressed his gratitude to all the people that have helped him reach his level and in particular his member federation which gave him the opportunity to represent his country in Doha.
Dabo represents the epitome of “Fair Play”. What a beautiful image of athletics for the young people out there and for all of us that watched the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019!
NB: Braima Dabo has been nominated for the fair play award. The winner will be revealed at the IAAF Athletics Awards in Monaco on 23 November.
Interview by Alice Annibali (IAAF)
Portuguese – English translation by Patricia De Freitas Rocha (IAAF)
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