Competing Against the Odds is a photo essay about the Malian National Swimming Team & their preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Bamako’s Olympic-size swimming pool at the Modibo Keita Stadium is an impressive, Communist-style structure, built in the late 1960’s by the former Soviet Union for the 1969 All-Africa Games. The pool had long been closed, & had fallen into disrepair, left at the mercy of the harsh Malian climate. But in 2009 it was renovated with funds from a Chinese company, and re-opened as part of the 50th Anniversary of Mali's Independence in September 2010, along with a number of other city landmarks.
Less than a year after the pool's grand re-opening, it had closed again, as the funding designated for its upkeep had apparently run out. The National Swimming Team had no option but to train as best they could in a small, private pool - competing against the odds to qualify for a place in the London 2012 Olympics.
In December 2011 I met with the team's coach and some of the swimmers, & proposed the idea of a photo shoot at the dry pool. A casual conversation with the caretaker on site got us in without too many questions. The concrete basin was eerily quiet & uncomfortably hot, with the intense afternoon sun bouncing off the tiles, creating deep, playful shadows. Faded lane dividers lay in a heap, gathering dust.
The following morning I accompanied the swimmers to their daily training session on the outskirts of the city. The pool was too small & the water too cold, but it was the best option available to them. At the poolside the young men mixed protein powder & milk in a large plastic barrel, to supplement their diet & support a demanding physical schedule.
Despite the challenges facing these young people, & the increasing political instability in Mali at the time, Mamadou Soumare & his colleague Fatoumata Samessekou from the Women’s Team made it to London to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.