INCHEON South Korea (Reuters) - Ethiopian-born Maryam Yusuf Jamal thanked Bahrain for giving her the chance to earn a living from athletics on Wednesday and told Reuters that her Asian Games 1,500 metres gold medal was down to intensive training, not which country she originated from.
Several oil-rich Gulf states, including Bahrain and Qatar, have achieved overnight athletics success by recruiting fleet-footed young Africans, who are free to compete at international level after meeting eligibility and residency requirements.
The issue has become a hot topic at the Asian Games in Incheon, where the track has been dominated by athletes born in Africa who switched allegiance.
Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) honorary life vice president Wei Jizhong has warned of the dangers of countries trying to buy success, suggesting it could discourage investment in home-grown athletic talent.
But Jamal, who came home just ahead of fellow Ethopian-born Bahraini Mimi Belete Gebregeiorges to claim a hat-trick of Asian Games 1,500m wins told Reuters that whether an athlete was born in a country or had been adopted by it made no difference.
“Everybody is representing Asia,” she said. “Bahrain gave me a lot of opportunity and the people also supported me from my federation... I say ‘thank you Bahrain’.”
Jamal, who became the first athlete from the island country to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze in London two years ago, said she had tried to obtain Swiss citizenship but when that fell through she made the switch to Bahrain.
“The people who come from Africa to Asia, it’s because of their training they win,” added Jamal, who said she trains twice a day with one day off per week.
”If you train hard, you’re a winner. If you don’t train hard, you’re a loser.
“I always train hard and that’s why I always win.”
The 30-year-old Jamal will attempt to win her second Incheon gold in the 5,000m final on Thursday.
Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien