by Bashir Abdi

Winning a medal at the Olympics was a childhood dream come true, but getting to do it alongside a training partner, a close friend, made it all the better.

I first met Abdi Nageeye in 2008, at the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels. He was competing, I was there watching, but we’ve been good friends ever since that day, linked by our similar stories, our Somali backgrounds, and our love of running.

During the training camp leading up to the Olympics I was in my best shape ever, by far. But things didn’t go smoothly in the final build-up. The trip to Japan and the accompanying jetlag resulted in insomnia.

Together with the Belgian medical staff, we tried to solve this the best way possible. Things did not work out the way we planned, which made my first Olympic marathon an even bigger challenge, especially on the mental side.

Luckily, I managed to hang on to the chasing pack throughout, battling for silver and bronze behind a superb Eliud Kipchoge. I was lucky to have Abdi by my side.

Bashir Abdi ()

He did not suffer from the jetlag and, as a result, he felt much more confident in the final stages of the race. It must have been a peculiar experience for him as the tables had turned from what was happening before.

We have the same coach in Gary Lough and during our final training camp in Ethiopia, I was the one encouraging him to keep going. Then, in Sapporo, he made the same gesture to me, but with one big difference: this time the whole world was watching.

I will always admire his selfless act as it could have lost him the silver medal, but in those moments he was thinking of sharing the podium with a friend. We are always brothers in arms, but in Sapporo he was the captain.

For me, not going home empty-handed after those troublesome weeks was a huge relief.

Bashir Abdi ()

Returning to Belgium made me realise what an impact the Olympics have on a country, in particular because of the wonderful moment I shared with Abdi seconds before crossing the line.

I thoroughly enjoyed being celebrated for a couple weeks, but I still had to prove something to myself. The idea to break the European marathon record before the Paris Olympics came up for the first time after finishing second at the Tokyo Marathon in 2020. Both my coach and I knew that it was possible to break this record. In the aftermath of the Olympic marathon, we decided to go all-in for a record attempt in Rotterdam, 79 days after winning bronze.

The period between Sapporo and Rotterdam seemed too short for a marathon build-up, according to the general public. But I thought it was just right. I still had the base training for the Olympics in my legs and the only thing my body truly desired was sleep.

Coming down from a five-week altitude camp in Font Romeu, I knew that Rotterdam would be my day. Returning to the city where my first marathon adventure in 2018 ended up in an emotional rollercoaster, including a nasty crash at the start, motivated me like never before.

Those in the media were surprised when I started talking about a European record. They were not expecting ambitions this high from a humble Belgian, but I had to as the organisers put in great efforts to build a strong field of both pacers and competitors around me. All I needed on Sunday, 24 October was the perfect day.

Guess what? It was exactly the day I had in mind. Rotterdam, only a two-hour drive from my hometown of Ghent, felt like coming home.

The conditions were splendid, the crowd was beyond perfect, and I felt confident throughout the race. Even when some of the favourites accelerated around kilometre 28, I ran my own race, returned to the front group, and then used my ‘home advantage’ to the fullest, almost becoming deaf thanks to the amazingly loud spectators.

Bashir Abdi ()

Crossing the line in a European record and winning the Rotterdam Marathon was out of this world and my way to thank the crowd, including the many Belgians who crossed the border to support me.

All the pain in the build-up – missing my family while at training camps and the frustrations concerning the jetlag in Sapporo – disappeared in the final stretch. The adrenaline kicked in and I pumped up the crowd.

It was pure bliss.

For now, I can call myself a European record holder and Olympic medallist, but that does not mean I am satisfied. My golden years are still ahead as I’m only 32.

I will not be aiming for a world record in the marathon; my goal is to medal at the biggest stage possible.

Oregon 2022 and Paris 2024 are two excellent occasions to showcase that my record was not a coincidence. I want to have a different colour than bronze before I say farewell to this wonderful sport.

But the most important insight from the past years is that after running six marathons, I can call the event my safe place, my home. The struggles I endured on the track, battling injuries and a lack of speed in the final laps, have disappeared. That might be my biggest victory of all.