The Palestinians are sending their largest-ever delegation to compete in the summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil, but fewer than half of its athletes were born in the West Bank or Gaza, and only two qualified by merit.
Of the six Palestinians who will compete in Brazil, three 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.
Of those six athletes, only two actually qualified for the Olympics through success in their sport. The other four were invited to compete through an Olympic program that allows athletes hailing from nations with underdeveloped sports infrastructure to compete without qualifying.
The Palestinians first fielded a summer Olympic team for the 1996 games in Atlanta, and have participated in the competition every four years since. No Palestinian athlete has stood on the Olympic medalists’ podium. It would be a major upset were that to change in Rio.
Below are short profiles of the Palestinian athletes competing in the games, set to begin August 6.
Mary al-Atrash: Swimmer
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. Though her best time is four seconds slower than the Olympic threshold of 25.28 seconds, 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 Gebrel: Swimmer
Ahmed Gebrel, 25 years old, was born to an Egyptian mother and Palestinian father and raised in Cairo. He learned to swim in the famous al-Ahli sports club of the Egyptian capital.
Gebrel swam in the 400-meter freestyle event at the 2012 Olympics in London, finishing in 27th place. This year, according to the official PA news site Wafa, Gebrel 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. He currently lives and trains in Barcelona, Spain.
Through Gebrel holds most of the Palestinian swimming records, he also needed to be invited to the games after he failed to qualify.
Mohammed Abu Khoussa: Runner
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.
His family immigrated to Gaza from Egypt in 1948, according to the Palestinian news site Sport Felesteen.
Abu Khoussa hopes to beat his current best time in the 100 meter dash of 10:55, especially after just having completed ten 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-Sayad: Runner
Mayada Al-Saya, 23 years old, will be the first Palestinian athlete to run in the 42km 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, coming in under the 2:45:00 time needed to qualify. At the 2015 World Athletics Championship in Beijing, China, she finished 50th out of 67 runners, according to the Arab world news site, Step Feed.
Simon Yacoub: Judoka
Simon Yacoub is perhaps the only serious contender to take home the first ever Olympic medal for Palestinians. Born in 1988 and raised in Leipzig, Germany by his Palestinian father and 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 when he decided he wanted to begin competing again, he knew he could not qualify for the German national team.
Then, wrote Yacoub on his own website, “I remembered the origin of my father. My goal was certain since this moment – The Olympic Games 2016 for Palestine!” He will participate in the super lightweight competition. He is also an invitee to the games.
Christian Zimmerman: Dressage rider
Christian Zimmerman, a German-Palestinian with dual citizenship, will be the first ever Palestinian to compete in the Olympics dressage competition — the art of controlling a horse in predetermined movements. Zimmerman, a resident of Cologne, qualified for Rio by topping the Africa and Middle East individual Olympic ranking, Step Feed reported.
At the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, Zimmerman finished 68th in the individual event.