Lebanon's fastest man prepares to take on 200m gold medal favourite Noah Lyles in Tokyo

Nourredine Hadid's story has touched followers across the world and earned him a welcome bonus

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With his starting blocks in place, Nourredine Hadid's wait was nearly over. He was about to race in the 100m in the final meet of the season, at Collège Notre Dame de Jamhour, south of Beirut.

A lengthy power cut, a frequent occurrence in Lebanon, delayed the start. Without the automatic timing technology, the sprinters would have to bide their time.

However, no power outage would dampen the spirits of Lebanon’s fastest man. Hadid had every reason to smile. These races were going to be his last competitive outing before he was to fly to the Tokyo Olympics.

“I am so ready for the Olympics, I can't wait to go,” Hadid told The National. “I feel like a new man, with new hopes, new power. To represent Lebanon in the Olympics, I am so motivated.”

The delay gave Hadid more time to relish in his achievement. Athletes who were waiting stopped to congratulate the Olympian and pose for selfies. Friends and supporters from the terraces came down to the trackside to wish him luck.

After what had been a disrupted season full of speculation, the Lebanese Olympic Committee announced in late June that Hadid would take Lebanon’s universality Olympic place, to participate in the men’s 200 metres. It had been a close call in selection. He was up against his friend and training partner Aziza Sbaity, and dual Olympian marathon-runner Chirine Njeim.

However, having scored the most points throughout the season on the World Athletics Federation’s Global Ranking system, Hadid was given the nod for Tokyo. And on Tuesday he lines up in Tokyo against world champion and gold medal favourite, Noah Lyles.

“It’s unbelievable. He is the fastest man in the world over the 200m,” said Hadid.

“You need to be focused and stay calm. So I always follow some steps - I think to myself, this is my event. I just need to do my best, I am not competing against those athletes, I am just competing against myself, and my time.

“Then when the gun goes off, I feel like if I stay low and run a good curve. I can then test myself with the runner on the outside of me. If I cross 50m-60m and I am close to him, I know I am in good shape now.”

Hadid is in his best shape, running his personal best of 20.83 in June, one of the performances that secured his place in Tokyo.

Since then, he has been inundated with messages of support from friends, family and colleagues. However, there was one message from a complete stranger that was particularly fortuitous.

After reading Hadid’s story in The National, one of his Instagram followers was compelled to reach out, and find out if she could help make a difference.

The economic situation in Lebanon, and resulting hyperinflation, has meant that the value of Hadid’s army wage has completely deteriorated, so much so that he could no longer afford to buy himself new running gear. In training, he resorted to running in old spikes that had holes in them. And when he raced, he would compete in a speed suit that was borrowed from Justin Gatlin.

“She said that she was from Lebanon but living in the US. She felt terrible about the situation here, and wanted to help,” explained Hadid.

“At first, I thought she was just talking, a lot of people say they will help, but then don’t.”

Thinking that he had nothing to lose, he sent over links to a new pair of running spikes and a new speed suit that he wanted.

Within a few days, his follower replied with a photo of the receipts and asked for a delivery address.

“I realised she was serious,” said Hadid.

Because mail services are unreliable in Lebanon, particularly international delivery, Hadid took to social media to see if anyone he knew was travelling between the US and Lebanon, and would be willing to travel with his new gear.

Through the power of Instagram, he found some help, and his new speed suit and spikes arrived in Lebanon just in time, days before his departure to Tokyo flight.

Hadid was dumbfounded by the willingness of others to help, and for his special supporter in the USA.

“I really appreciate everything, it’s really amazing,” says Hadid, “Hopefully I can meet her in Lebanon someday.”

Eventually, the power came back on in Jamhour and the races got under way. As expected, Lebanon’s fastest man recorded two more victories, in the 100m and 200m, and added the gold medals to his collection.

As much as gold may seem unlikely in Tokyo, Hadid has a clear goal in mind.

“Hopefully I can improve my time and get another personal best and national record. I think I still have hope to go through to the semi-finals. I am really close to the elite athletes. I think I have a big chance to go through to the semi-final.

“No-one knows what's going to happen. Hopefully, I can qualify through to the next round. It will be the first time ever in Lebanon’s history to do so.”

Updated: August 02, 2021, 10:50 AM