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Olympic dreams for Palestine

Guest post by Shane O’Connor.

Last Monday was the proudest day of Shafik’s life. Watching on a small television in a friend’s bakery in Jerusalem, Shafik beamed with pride as his son, Maher Abu Rmeileh, became the first Palestinian to compete on merit at the Olympic Games.

Maher Abu Rmeileh had led the small Palestinian delegation at the opening ceremony and on Monday he finally got his chance to take his place amongst the elite judo competitors in the world.

The 28-year-old went head-to-head with Belgian Dirk van Tichelt in the Men’s -73kg event. Although he was defeated, Shafik had never been so proud of his son.

Olympic dreams for Palestine

“Maher has made my dreams come through regardless of the result today,” he said with tears in his eyes. “If you were to open my heart right now and examine it, you will never be able to read with any instrument just how happy I am.”

It is only two months since Maher found out that he would be competing at the London Games. Although Palestine has been represented at the last four Olympic Games, Maher is the first Palestinian athlete to qualify on merit. Other Palestinians have qualified under rules exempting developing nations from having to reach the qualifying standard.

Earlier this summer, the father of two was busy working at his father’s scarf shop in Jerusalem when he got a phone call from his club trainer to tell him that he would soon be on a plane to London.

The news was culmination of 21 years of hard work. Maher comes from a strong background in Judo – Shafik, his father, competed, as does his brother, Bilal.

Maher trains and represents the ‘Al Quds club’ in the east of the city where his father continues to coach and where Maher’s younger brothers continue to train for their sporting dreams and success.

First Palestinian to compete on merit at the Olympic Games
Captions:  Shafik proudly watches his son, Maher Abu Rmeileh, became the first Palestinian to compete on merit at the Olympic Games in the local bakery with family and friends. Photos by Elena Hermosa.

“Discipline and commitment are required,” says the athlete’s father, “but the rewards are great. Judo is one of the most beautiful and one of the most practical of sports. It is a big part of my life and our families life.”

Maher was the second member of Team Palestine to compete at this summer’s Games. Ahmed Gebrel competed in the Men’s 400m Freestyle swim on Saturday. Although he recorded a personal best time, Ahmed did not qualify for the final.

Next up for Palestine is Sabine Hazboun, who will race in the fourth Heat of the Women’s 50m Freestyle Swim on Friday. Bahaa Al Faraa will race in the first round of the Men’s 400m sprint on Saturday, while Woroud Sawalha will race in the first round of the Women’s 800m next Wednesday.

This is an edited version of a blog written by Shane O’Connor. Shane and Elena Hermosa are following the stories of the Palestinian Olympians and their families on their blog which you can find  here.


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