When Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa raised his arms and closed his fists to form a cross as he reached the finish line of the Olympics marathon in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, he didn't just broadcast his own solidarity with the Oromo protests in Ethiopia.
by admin / 337 ViewsLilesa turned a global spotlight on the plight of the Oromo people, winning himself many admirers for doing so. Now some of those admirers want to help, and a crowdfunding effort for Lilesa has raised more than $149,000 in just four days.
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Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia was nearing the finish line at the men’s marathon on Sunday morning when he crossed his wrists above his head.
The silver medalist did it again. And once more at the end of an extraordinary news conference -- standing alone and posing for photographers -- in which he explained his show of solidarity with protesters in his homeland, Ethiopia.
He explained that the gesture was in protest of the killing of the Oromo people, saying he stands with the resistance movement, adding that the government was “killing our people.”
Lilesa was asked about the consequences of his protest. He said maybe “they kill me…if not they kill me, they put me in prison.”
Later, it was mentioned that the International Olympic Committee frowned upon political protests/gestures at the Games.
Said Lilesa: “They can’t do anything. It’s my feeling.”
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NAIROBI — When he crossed the Olympics marathon finish line, Feyisa Lilesa put his hands above his head in an "X." Most of those who watched Lilesa's spectacular silver medal performance didn't know what that meant — or just how dangerous a protest they were watching.
Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government's killing of hundreds of the country's Oromo people — an ethnic majority that has long complained about being marginalized by the country's government. The group has held protests this year over plans to reallocate Oromo land. Many of those protests ended in bloodshed. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since November.
For months, the Oromo have been using the same "X" gesture that Lilesa, 26, used at the finish line.
At a news conference following the race, he reiterated his defiant message.
"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said. "My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."
It was a remarkable turn of events — within seconds, Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country. In addition to those killed, many Oromo protesters are currently languishing in prison.
In Ethiopia, the state broadcaster did not air a replay of the finish.
Lilesa was conscious of the danger. He immediately suggested that he might have to move somewhere else.
"If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said.
It wasn’t the first time an Ethiopian athlete had considered defecting after competition. In 2014, four of the country’s runners applied for asylum in the United States after disappearing from the international junior track championships in Eugene, Ore.
The plight of the Oromo and the Ethiopian government's use of force against civilians have received some attention recently, but nothing as prominent as Lilesa's defiance. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said that it was “deeply concerned” about the most recent killing of protesters. But likely because Ethiopia remains a U.S. ally in the fight against Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab, American officials have been reluctant to offer any further condemnation.
Oromo dissidents, particularly those outside Ethiopia, have been active on social media about their cause. As soon as Lilesa crossed the finish line, tweets and Facebook posts went up with pictures of their new folk hero. Ethiopia is one of Africa's fastest growing nations, and it seen by many as a model of economic potential. The government has played down the protests, saying earlier this month that “the attempted demonstrations were orchestrated by foreign enemies from near and far in partnership with local forces.”
Lilesa has been racing internationally for Ethiopia for more than eight years, and holds one of the world's fastest ever marathon times: 2:04:52.
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- Robel Habte, 24, was body-shamed after he appeared at the Rio Olympics sporting an unathletic paunch
- He was the target of much online criticism and dubbed 'Robel the Whale'
- After his lackluster performance, he famously retired from the pools
- But now Habte has made a U-turn, vowing to better his performance and return for the Tokyo Games
- He also set up the 'Robel the Whale Foundation' to help more Ethiopian swimmers compete and represent their country in the Olympics
The Ethiopian swimmer body-shamed and dubbed 'Robel the Whale' after a disaster in the Olympic pool has made a U-turn and will swim at the next games.
Robel Habte, 24, was so hurt and insulted by the global internet criticism he received that he vowed his Olympic days were over.
But he has decided to embrace the moniker given to him by internet trolls and hope for 'something positive and to help others.'
He has set up the 'Robel the Whale Foundation' to bring more Ethiopian swimmers to the Olympic pool in four years' time at the Tokyo games.
Much of the negative remarks were not only made against his physique, but also at claims that nepotism played a part in his Olympic inclusion, as his father is a member of the Ethiopian swimming federation.
But Habte said: 'I have to be strong and overcome what people say about me.
'I will take the cyber and verbal bullying that I received after the Rio Olympics and convert them into motivations, which will help me achieve my set of goals and become the best swimmer that I could be.'
'I am not that fat, but I do not have the right body for swimming now. But I will show them and I will help other swimmers from my country too.'
Ethiopia does not have an Olympic size 50m pool. Habte wants to raise funds so that better training facilities will mean stronger Olympic swimmers in four years.
'I have been hurt, but I can be stronger and fitter and stop the laughing that people have done,' he said
'With my foundation, I hope that people in Ethiopia will get the chance to train in a proper swimming facility that I was not able to receive.
'I want to see more swimmers from my country, but I do not want them to be scared that they will be called fat and abused like I have been.'
Habte appeared in one event in Rio 2016 and achieved worldwide fame for his persistence — as well as infamy his body shape.
The furniture shop owner, who was making his first appearance at the Olympics, finished half-a-lap behind his two rivals in the 100m freestyle heats.
By the time he had emerged for air from his opening dive off the blocks in the 100 meters freestyle heats, he was already almost a body length behind. It did not get better from there.
The only one of the 59 entrants in the heats not to complete the distance in under a minute, Habte touched the wall with a time 17 seconds slower than Australian pacesetter Kyle Chalmers, who clocked 47.90 seconds.
Habte's only rivals in the three-man opening heat, Thibaut Danho of the Ivory Coast and Johnny Perez Urena of the Dominican Republic, had removed their caps and were leaning on the lane markers as he trailed in more than 12 seconds behind.
When they finished, he was half a lap behind.
The crowd, recognizing the effort, raised a cheer for him for staying the course in a similar way Eric the Eel was cheered in Sydney 2000 as a distinguished loser.
But the internet was open to critics who fat slammed him and joked about his weight.
He admitted he was ‘too fat for the Olympics’, but blamed his excess weight on a car crash.
He said the injuries he received as he drove his Rav 4 in Addis Ababa sidelined him for two months in which he gained 40kgs in flab.
'I am now around 82kgs and that is still much.
'I should be 72 or 74kgs when I swim. But I could not manage it. My girlfriend Selam was telling me I had to lose weight, but I could not do it all.'
Habte fought to lose the weight in the run up to Rio, but didn’t quite manage to shake it off.
He said he had been hurt by some of the remarks comparing him to a whale and had stopped reading his Facebook page and Twitter.
He added: 'They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale.
'But I will lose the weight and I will be fit and ready for more swimming competitions.
'I was against going to Tokyo, but I have to prove myself and I have to show people that I can swim fast. I hold Ethiopian national swimming records.
'Ethiopia is not a swimmer's country and I have not trained in an Olympic size pool,' Habte added.
'My country is famous for runners. I wanted to be famous for being a swimmer.'
He initially said the experience was enough to stop him competing in Tokyo in 2020 at the next Olympics, but he had changed his mind ‘to show the world.’
His disaster in the Olympic pool was compared to the experiences of of Eric Moussamban from Equatorial Guinea who rose to global fame at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
He swam his heat of the 100m freestyle in 1:52.72. a time which was more than double that of his faster competitors.
He was quickly dubbed ‘Eric the Eel’ and lauded for his efforts in finishing despite the race being long over.
Habte said: ‘My dream is more than a personal achievement — it is about surging national pride.'
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