March 2001 | Archive | Read article | © Seamus Murphy/Saba
reportage Still training
The photographer Seamus Murphy and
the writer Alex Duval Smith went to the
troubled country of Sierra Leone in May
2000. Amidst the familiar evidence of
cruelty and chaos, they found a group
of dedicated athletes desperate to
compete in the Olympic Games in Sydney

To view story please scroll to the right

Quintin Hindwejivah Saliakonneh, 17, practising the high jump over the nets of fishermen pulling in their catch on Lumley Beach, Freetown. He comes from Kailahun and is worried because he has not heard anything from his family who are living behind enemy R.U.F. lines in the city of Bo. His uncle is a Kamajor warrior fighting against the rebels in Bo

Members of the 400 metre relay team exercise on Lumley Beach

To escape the humidity of Freetown, the relay team do some hill training above the city to build up muscles and increase lung capacity. They used to train higher up in the hills, but recent R.U.F. attacks make this impossible

Mohammed S. Sesay, 20, takes a break from the makeshift weights he uses at his home. He is from Makeni, a town behind enemy R.U.F. lines and his mother, father and brother were killed by rebels. He was present at the peace demonstrations in front of R.U.F.-leader Foday Sankohs house, where he saw a young man being executed in front of him, which reminded him forcefully of seeing his parents being killed. He hid in the gutter for 30 minutes and then made good escape

Sesay training at his home in Freetown, a government-owned building that houses many of those displaced by the war. He shares a small room with friends

Frank Turay, 24, lifting weights made from stones and cement at his home in Lumley, Freetown. Frank competes at 200 and 400 metres, and he is captain of the 4x400m relay team. He ran in the Atlanta Games in 1996, and as the only one to have had that experience, inspires the others to believe in themselves. He lives in a house his brother, a policeman, was building when he was killed in a R.U.F. ambush 3 years ago

Team trainer Joseph O'Reilly Campbell monitors his athletes' performance. The Athletic Council decided not to use starting pistols for fear of spreading panic among an already traumatised people, and because there is no electricity available, a stopwatch must be used instead of electronic timing. Final qualification for the Games must be achieved in another country, where the basic technical requirements can be fulfilled

Runners train using broken sticks to build up muscle and rhythm. There is no budget available for equipment and the athletes are barely able to feed themselves

Mariatu Conteh, 17, practises the long jump in the delapidated National Stadium in Freetown. Her events include the 100m, 200m and the long jump. She lives in King Tom police barracks in Freetown, near the stadium, where she is staying with her sister who is a police officer. During the January 1999 rebel invasion, her father and brother were killed and their house in Wellington was burnt down. She survives on donations from relatives and other admirers of her sporting achievements

An athlete training in the terraces of the National Stadium

Practising the high jump in the National Stadium

Athletes wash after a long training session at the Stadium

Some of the athletes are forced to sleep in the stadium for lack of funds and it is also safer to live here rather then travel in each day through some of the dangerous areas of Freetown. Here, athletes are carrying out the highjump landing mattress from the dressing room - they take turns to sleep on it during the night
white Back to start