Maida Vale waiter waits for shot at Olympic marathon glory
Injury means Egyptian long distance star will have to wait until 2016 for his chance to compete in the Games
With the great and good of the athletics world regularly visiting Maida Vale to train at Paddington Rec, locals may be used to seeing future gold medallists in the area.
But just 500 metres down the road, in the unlikely setting of a coffee shop on Formosa Street, there is an Olympic hopeful masquerading as a waiter.
Belal Mohamad, 25, works up to 60 hours a week at Formosina but unlike the average caf� worker, he also has to find time to run 115 miles every week.
Originally from Egypt, Mr Mohamad was rated the No 1 long-distance runner in his native country before leaving in 2006. He subsequently secured the Olympic marathon qualifying time for this summer’s London Games.
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After winning his first national competition at the age of six and continuing his way to the top, he was offered the chance to run for a club in New York.
“I won four or five races for them and used to run with no shoes, so I was very famous for that,” he said. “I had to leave in 2007, so I came to live in England.
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“I ran in the British 10km race against Stefano Baldini, who won the 2004 Olympics marathon, and I came fourth.The problem was that I started the race in shoes but had to stop halfway through to take them off.”
After targeting London 2012, Mr Mohamad, who is competing for Egypt while awaiting British citizenship, increased his training, despite having to continue to work at Formosina.
“You cannot compare someone who works from 6am to midnight and has to train in between with someone who wakes up late, has a proper diet and physio, and can train three times a day,” he said. “It’s very hard but I always think that if I run in the Olympics, my life might change. I could quit my job and focus on my running.
“But you have to be happy with what you have got. It’s not about comparing yourself to others and saying what they have and you don’t.”
Mr Mohamad’s place in the Egyptian team for London 2012 was guaranteed, but then disaster struck in January when he heard he needed surgery on his knee and was ruled out for the year.
“It was very hard,” he said. “It’s like you build a house and pay everything and then it is destroyed – you never feel like starting again and rebuilding it.
“I just thought I would give up and never run again. But people told me I was still young so I should try again. The next Olympics are in Brazil in 2016 and I promised my wife I would run in the Olympics, so I have to do it.”
It might take a few years more than he hoped, but when the 2016 Games arrive, Maida Vale may well see its adopted son go for gold.