Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Palestinian Olympic Dream ; One Palestinian Runner Strives against Heavy Odds to Represent Her State-in-the-Making

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Palestinian Olympic Dream ; One Palestinian Runner Strives against Heavy Odds to Represent Her State-in-the-Making

Article excerpt

Runner Sanaa Abu Bkheet is a fitting representative of the Palestinians for this summer's Athens Olympics.

Like the nation that lacks territory for its state, Ms. Abu Bkheet, 19, has no track on which to run. There are none in war- torn Gaza, one of the most crowded and impoverished places on earth. She runs on the beach, along Mediterranean waters sealed off by the Israeli navy.

Three years after starting to run, Abu Bkheet, a high school senior, is doing her best to get ready for Athens, where she will compete in the 800-meter run.

"I know that I can't get a medal in this Olympics," she says during an interview in the federation's offices in a Palestinian security complex badly damaged during an Israeli airstrike. "What I am hoping is that if I do well enough I will gain a chance to develop myself abroad.

"It is a big responsibility to be the first Palestinian woman runner in the Olympics and to represent Palestine," she adds. Dismissing the suggestion that there is no such country, Abu Bkheet says, "I have a country, but it is under occupation."

Each time the tiny team - three athletes this year - has been dispatched more for politics than sports - to symbolize that Palestine is a state-in-the-making and a member of the international community.

Abu Bkheet's challenges are perhaps even more formidable than the obstacles faced by other Olympic hopefuls who rose from Third World poverty, including her idol, Mozambique's 800-meter gold medalist Maria Mutola.

Locked in a struggle for survival, Palestinian society has little space - mental or physical - for sports, and the government, a self- rule authority on the brink of collapse, has no money to sponsor her. Her predicament reflects the larger woes of a nation stunted. She can rely only on herself and the backing of her family.

The Palestinian Athletic Federation is asking Germany and the International Olympic Committee to sponsor Abu Bkheet for some training before Athens, according to the committee's Secretary- General Khalil Abed. …

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