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Haitian triple jumper Samyr Laine is determined to give something back to his ravaged homeland and hopes that his old room mate at Harvard – Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – can offer him the boost he needs.
Laine is just one of five Haitian athletes at the London Olympics representing the Caribbean nation, devastated two and a half years ago by an earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left one million homeless.
Three of Haiti’s five very basic running tracks are housing the displaced. Millions live on less than two dollars a day.
Laine’s parents moved to the United States in the 1970’s, but Haiti is still clearly tugging at his heartstrings.
“I have to give. That is a necessity for me,” the 28-year-old lawyer told Reuters as he prepared for his London challenge.
He is planning to set up a Jump For Haiti Foundation which would try, through training camps and clinics, to build a new generation of home-grown athletes to compete at future Olympics.
Competing with the world’s best is a struggle for Haiti.
“The total budget for the Olympics is $400,000. In the United States it is $170 million,” Laine said. “You have to be self-motivated. It does not have the resources and the bureaucracy hinders the athletes.”
Talking of Haiti’s five-strong team for London, he said: “We are really here on our own and got here on our own. It is very emotional. We are a tight group, we are very close.”
For his foundation, Laine hopes his friends will help out.
At Harvard he shared a room with Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook. Laine was the 14th person to sign up to the social media site.
“I will talk to him and I will talk to all of my friends,” Laine said. “I am not going to ask him for any more than my other friends. But I hope his heart will move him. Having him behind the foundation would be a great, great help,” he said.
Laine’s family suffered agonies of uncertainty when the earthquake struck, not knowing what had happened to relatives.
“It took a full week to find out if everyone was safe,” he said. “It felt like the longest week of my life. All you heard on CNN was about death tolls. You held your breath the whole time.”
The family called on an aunt working for the Canadian government to help track down their loved ones.
“It was nerve-wracking. We had no contact with my grandparents. Their house was destroyed,” he said.
But for now it is time to concentrate on the triple jump — and Laine is very upbeat.
“I am 100 percent healthy. I am a viable medal hopeful,” he said, after a promising pre-Olympic warm up at London’s Crystal Palace. “My performances are peaking at the right time.”
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