Missing Sierra Leone athlete living rough in London after family killed by Ebola

'Ebola has destroyed so much, but I can’t survive here if I live like this'

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Sierra Leone’s top sprinter, who vanished after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer, is living rough on the streets of London and says he cannot return home because his family have been killed by Ebola.

Jimmy Thoronka, the West African country’s number one 100m sprinter, had a promising career ahead of him when he disappeared at the end of the Games last August.

But the 20-year-old is now sleeping in London parks and on night buses, begging for money to buy food, and sometimes having to go hungry.

Thoronka said that he had decided not to return to Sierra Leona after learning that his uncle had died, probably from Ebola, and later discovering that the family who had adopted him after the death of his birth parents had also been killed by the virus.

“I’m very frightened of what will happen to me. Life here is very bad for me but if I return to Sierra Leone I don’t think I will make it,” he said in an interview with The Guardian today. “I can’t go back to Sierra Leone because my whole family has been wiped out. Nobody is doing athletics there now. Ebola has destroyed so much. But I can’t survive here either if I continue living like this. I don’t know what I am going to do,” he said.

“We have a cold season in Sierra Leone but it is not cold like England. Some days I ... just feel like killing myself. My dream is to become one of the best sprinters in the world but I don’t see how that can happen now. Maybe someone will see that I have potential and give me some sponsorship so that I can train here.”

Before competing in the Games, Thoronka had won medals in African competitions and received the Sportswriters Association of Sierra Leone’s best male athlete award in 2013.

“I was hoping to win a medal for my country,” he said. “But during the Games I got the terrible news that my uncle had died, probably from Ebola. I couldn’t stop crying ... [but] I tried to carry on.”

Thoronka competed in one heat of the 4x100m relay at the Games but failed to win any medals. “I was very excited to be coming to the Games in Glasgow,” he said. “I saw it as my big chance. I had competed in international competitions before, but this was the big one for me.”

When he had left Sierra Leone to come to Glasgow for the competition, Ebola cases had been confirmed in a few villages, but the epidemic had not yet taken hold of the capital, Freetown. More than 3,500 people have now died of the virus in Sierra Leone.