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Senegalese Wrestler Keeps Training With An Eye On Tiny Foe

  • 3 min read

One of the rising stars of traditional Senegalese wrestling, Moussa Diop has been driven off the beaches of Dakar, where he usually trains, and behind closed doors by the country’s coronavirus lockdown

Diop, a fighter who “packs a punch”, is due to fight again in June and is working at keeping up his training in an unfamiliar environment. AFP / JOHN WESSELS Diop trains with shadow fighting as he worries about taking precautions against an invisible foe

Diop fights as “Serigne Ndiaye 2”, in homage to his father, but is known to friends as “Coriace.”

Every morning at seven he leaves the Medina, a poor neighbourhood in the centre of Dakar, to go to the “Body Max” gym which is opened specially for him by his trainer, Maquette Seydi, who has had to close his gym to the general public.

“Before, there were other wrestlers and other people who trained for fitness here. Now it’s just me, my brother and the coach,” Diop said.

Alone, the 24-year-old heavyweight works through his reps.

“A lot has changed,” said coach Seydi. “We train in private, which I’ve never done before.”

“With coronavirus, I have to protect Serigne Ndiaye 2 and myself. We’ve increased our hygiene and we’re working carefully,” the coach said.

Traditional Senegalese wrestlers compete bare-handed and shirtless, in loincloths, in full stadiums. Their fights are broadcast live.

The 4,000 or so registered competitors are “forced to follow the same rules as the general population: safe distance, no groups, no physical contact,” says the wrestling federation vice-president Thierno Ka.

“If they train individually, there are no special guidelines. Many of them do road work, jogging, etc. It’s their responsibility,” he adds. AFP / JOHN WESSELS Moussa Diop training on the roof with the help of his nephew

For these stars, adored by the public, respecting social distancing is a challenge.

“We are famous, a lot of people want to greet us and everyone wants to hold us,” said Diop, adding that the virus is a different sort of opponent.

“It’s normal for us to be suspicious, to be afraid. It’s normal for us to be wary and scared, because you can’t see this cunning guy.”

After the gym, Diop does a cardio session on a vacant lot before practising his moves on the roof of the family home.

“There are some wrestlers who are not training,” said Diop.

“But since I have a fight planned, I can’t go without training. In a month’s time, the coronavirus may go away and if it goes away and I have to fight, I have to be ready.”

“I pray to God that in a few days time the coronavirus will be gone,” he says.

His mother doesn’t object to him continuing his training.

“All he has to do is take precautions, go to training sessions, come back, and not mix with other people,” says Mbery Diop.