Palestine is competing at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro from 6 to 21 August with six athletes. Three of the six Palestinians who will compete in Rio are Germans of Palestinian descent and one was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt.
Two of the Palestinians athletes competing in the games are swimmers, another two are runners, one is a judoka and another is a dressage rider. Only two of those six athletes are actually qualified for the Olympics on merit.
The other four were invited to participate through an Olympic program that allows athletes hailing from nations with underdeveloped sports infrastructure to compete without qualifying.
The National Olympic Committee of Palestine was founded in 1933 and is considered one of the oldest Arab and Asian Olympic bodies, but it was not able to participate in the Olympics until 1996 because of Israel’s refusal. Below are concise profiles of the Palestinian athletes competing in the games beginning August 6.
Mary al-Atrash is a 22-year-old native of the West Bank city of Bethlehem. In an interview with Reuters, she said that because there is not even one Olympic-sized pool in the Palestinian territories, she had to settle for training in a 25-meter pool. Atrash will compete in the 50-meter freestyle. She was invited to compete in the tournament. “I am so happy. Representing Palestine in competitions is a dream for any Palestinian athlete, especially the Olympics,” Atrash told Reuters.
Ahmed Jebreel, 25 years old, was born to an Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father and raised in Cairo. He learned to swim in the famous al-Ahli sports club of the Egyptian capital. Jebreel swam in the 400-meter freestyle event at the 2012 Olympics in London, finishing in 27th place. This year, according to the WAFA news agency, Jebreel will compete in the 200-meter freestyle event. After competing in Rio, he will be the only Palestinian athlete to have participated twice in the Olympics. Though Jebreel holds most of the Palestinian swimming records, he also needed to be invited to the games after he failed to qualify.
Mohammed Abu Khoussa, 22 years old, will be the first Palestinian runner to compete in the 100-meter event in the Olympics. He was born in Gaza and reportedly lives with a poor eight-member family in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City. Abu Khoussa hopes to beat his current best time in the 100-meter dash of 10:55, especially after just having completed 10 months of training on the African Island nation of Mauritius. The young Gazan will have to run in the primary qualifier on August 13.
Mayada al-Sayyad, 23 years old, will be the first Palestinian athlete to run in the 42 km Olympic marathon. She was born and raised in Berlin to a German mother and a Palestinian father. She qualified for the games in Rio by finishing the 2015 Hamburg Marathon in 2:41:44.
Simon Yacoub won several national titles in Germany and competed in the 2014 World Judo Championship. Born in 1988 and raised in Leipzig, Germany, to a Palestinian father and a German mother, Yacoub has excelled in the grappling sport of Judo since he first hit the mat at age five. By age 16, he was on the German national team. Due to an illness in his lungs in November, 2013, Yacoub took a break from judo for a couple of years, but later he decided to begin competing again. “I remembered the origin of my father. My goal was certain from this moment – The Olympic Games 2016 for Palestine,” Yacoub wrote on his own website. He will participate in the super lightweight competition. He is also an invitee to the games.
Christian Zimmermann, born 12 December 1961, is a German-born Palestinian dressage rider. He represented Palestine at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy where he finished 68th in the individual dressage competition with Cinco de Mayo. He was the first Palestinian to compete at the World Equestrian Games. Zimmerman, a resident of Cologne, qualified for Rio by topping the Africa and Middle East individual Olympic ranking, according to the website Step Feed.