In the dying stages of the men’s race, Nageeye of the Netherlands cheered and encouraged his exhausted Belgian training partner Bashir Abdi. The gesture was enough to lift them both to a podium finish, with Nageeye taking the silver in 2:09:58 and Abdi securing bronze in 2:10:00.
The touching show of sportsmanship was broadcast around the globe.
The pair’s performance seemed to inspire refugee communities everywhere, as both Nageeye and Abdi were born in Somalia, a country from which they fled at a young age.
“I was more concentrated on him,” Nageeye continued. “I had that feeling that I had a lot of confidence that I will be number two, and I was just trying to help him, that he finished number three. And then we did it. And then all the emotion came when you finish it.”
The largest marathon in the world, 33,000 runners will stand on the starting line for the event’s 50th running and race through New York’s five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.
Nageeye will be one of them — he headlines the men’s open division with his Tokyo silver.
The Dutchman was 11th at the 2016 Olympic marathon in Rio and has finished in the top-10 at the Boston Marathon twice. He also holds national records in both the marathon and half marathon.
“I think the New York Marathon for me, it’s the El Clásico of athletics,” Nageeye said.
“It’s the greatest marathon, I think, after the Olympics and World Championships.”
The men’s open division also features Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, a four-time Olympic medalist who will make his NYC debut.
Both Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie and Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins will also make their New York marathon debuts.
The unforgettable moment in Tokyo
As the Olympics drew to a close 500 miles north of host city Tokyo, Nageeye had the race of his life on the streets of Sapporo.
He executed a near-perfect race, and although his attempt to chase down eventual gold medalist and legendary marathoner Eliud Kipchoge failed, Nageeye’s efforts were still brilliantly rewarded.
With less than a kilometer of the race to go, a three-way battle took place between Kipchoge’s Kenyan teammate Lawrence Cherono, Nageyee and Abdi for the final two medal spots.
Suddenly, Nageeye appeared to slow down and visibly wave on his Belgian friend. The encouragement seemed to flip a switch as Abdi found a new stride and began to overtake Cherono for the bronze.
“I still remember that day. I knew it was a tough day, and a long sprint will kill him,” Nageeye said of his training partner.
“If it’s 200 meters and we start sprinting to the finish, it will hurt him because he had a lot of cramps and he was really tired. I was just trying to keep that sprint as short as possible.”
The power of sportsmanship
The Netherlands’ second-ever medal in the Olympic marathon, the outcome in Tokyo ranks Nageeye among the best runners in the world.
But the final moments of the event will cement his name in history. The decision to encourage his competitor was instinctive, Nageeye says.
“What I experienced in the past, there was always people who were helping me,” Nageeye explained.
“I think it is now in my nature that I try to help others.”
The next generation
Beyond his athletic pursuits, Nageeye continues to encourage the Somali youth through his foundation.
The 32-year-old says he hopes the Abdi Nageeye Foundation can provide the younger generation with an opportunity to play sports in a safe environment outdoors.
“I grew up in the Netherlands, and you are able to do whatever you like as a child. At this moment, that’s not possible in Somalia.”
Nageeye also believes sports facilities are an important contribution his foundation can offer young athletes.
“You can tell them to run, but you should have a place to run, a place to play, or what can they do? I really hope to help them.”