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Originally published Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 7:23 AM

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Somali athletes training despite bombing deaths

Somalia's Olympic athletes returned to practice for the London Games, a day after the national Olympic committee president and another top sports official were killed in a bomb blast.

Associated Press

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MOGADISHU, Somalia —

Somalia's Olympic athletes returned to practice for the London Games, a day after the national Olympic committee president and another top sports official were killed in a bomb blast.

Four of the country's five Olympic athletes trained at the rubble-strewn playground after Olympic Committee President Aden Yabarow Wiish and soccer federation head Said Mohamed Nur were among 10 people killed in a bomb attack at an outdoor theater on Wednesday.

Runners Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, Mohamud Ali, Ayan Samow and Amal Ahmed were emotional when telling The Associated Press that the bombing, labeled an "act of barbarism" by the IOC, wouldn't stop them going to the games - and honoring Wiish.

"Yesterday was utterly a black day for Somali sports," said Mohamed, who competes in the 5,000 meters. "As we have lost precious bosses who spent more time and energy in developing Somali sport.

"It was a terrifying moment. I did not sleep well all night. There was a nightmare, but one thing is for sure: that the work of Mr. Wiish will be remembered."

Track and field federation head Khadija Aden Dahir was at the former school where the four Olympic hopefuls train - and where they sleep and live. She wept as she spoke of the two sports leaders who died in the suicide bombing. Islamist group al-Shabab took responsibility for the bombing.

Samow, who is set to compete in the women's 5,000 in London, and Ahmed also tried to control their emotions as they spoke.

"The hopes were high before the death of our beloved boss," Samow said, "but our hopes were dashed in one moment."

Ahmed added: "I have been weeping since yesterday."

The tragedy was by far the worst in a series of setbacks for the athletes, who have little equipment and run along the dangerous main road through Mogadishu when they train. They jog past roadblocks of armed militia and security checkpoints, coach Ahmed Xog said, the site of suicide bombings and where dozens of civilians have been shot and killed.

But the athletes said they had renewed determination and were focused on proudly representing their country in London at sport's biggest event.

The lost leaders, who were honored by the IOC and FIFA, were widely respected for their roles in trying to normalize sport in a country devastated by years of violence.

Wiish and Nur had just last week toured the national soccer stadium in Mogadishu, which is being renovated and brought into line with international standards. It's major progress for Somalia, whose lowly ranked soccer team had to play all its home matches elsewhere.

After the renovation, track and field athletes will practice there rather than a dusty, old school ground surrounded by abandoned buildings.

The two men had been leading figures in meetings with government officials last month that hinted at an optimistic future for Somali sport.

That hope was shattered when a suicide bomber detonated explosives during a ceremony to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a television station. The theater had only just reopened following years of violence.

"This is a great loss to Somalia at this particular time when people of this courage and tenacity are most needed," Ali said. "Said and Aden Wiish were the eyes of Somalia sports.

"(But) we are all proud to represent our country at the London Games, it means a lot to us to have the national Somali flag among those of countries and regions from around the world."

Somali Olympic committee spokesman Shafi Mohyadin said there would be three days of mourning and famous sporting sites would be named after the long-serving Wiish, who had been involved in Somali sport for more than 40 years.

"This attack in which our boss was killed will not deter us," Mohyadin said.

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AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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