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A Somali sprinter, to use the word wrongly, created an international stir for her performance in the women’s 100-meter dash at the World University Games in Chengdu, China on Monday. The runner, identified on entry lists from event organizers as 18-year-old Nasro Abukar Ali, not only finished dead last in her preliminary heat, but was so far behind that she didn't even show up in videos of the rest of the pack crossing the finish line.

Ali did, however, show up in the results chart with an official time of 21.81 seconds. That’s more than 10 seconds off the pace set by Brazil’s Gabriela Silva Mourão, who won the prelim in 11.58 seconds. Video of the race shows the clock at Shuangliu Sports Centre briefly flash a time of 19.32 as Ali skips across the finish line, but that was unofficial. She wasn’t slowed by any obvious injury or stumble; the speed was just non-existent.

The sporting world occasionally falls hard for stinkers who somehow make it to the world stage. For example, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards and the Jamaican bobsled team both finished last in their events at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, and neither ever showed they belonged in their respective fields. But both became international media darlings and, eventually, the focus of fawning feature films.

Ali, who according to entry records at the World University Games is a student at Jobkey University in Mogadishu, is getting no such warm embrace. The viral video of her 100-meter jog has made her a global laughingstock, but back home nobody’s giggling. Somalis in high places are saying her performance shamed her nation, and a hunt is on to find out how she ended up representing her country at an elite international track meet. 

The Somali Minister of Youth and Sports, Mohamed Barre Mohamud, announced that after an investigation he had concluded that “Nasro Abukar Ali has been identified as not sports person nor a runner.” Mohamud also said the chairwoman of the Somali Athletics Federation, Khadijo Aden Dahir, “has engaged in acts of abuse of power, nepotism, and defaming the name of the nation in international arena.”

Mohamud disclosed no evidence of Dahir’s nepotism in his statement, and didn’t explain Dahir’s relationship to Abukar Ali or what role that played in her ending up on a track in China in Somali colors. Still, Mohamud directed the Somali National Olympics committee to suspend the chairwoman for her transgressions.

The Somali official also threatened to pursue “legal action” against Dahir for her role in the debacle, and requested the Olympics committee launch an inquiry to expose everybody responsible for letting the college student take her stroll at the World University Games. The impending process for Ali, much like the race that landed her in trouble, will feel like a marathon, not a sprint.

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