Palestinian judoka Abu Rmeileh makes Games history (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Shatha Yaish 06/21/12)
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In the tiny locker room of a small sports club in east Jerusalem,
Maher Abu Rmeileh carefully ties the black belt around his blue judo
gi before beginning an intense training session ahead of the 2012
Participating in this year´s Olympic Games, which start in London
next month, is a double honour for Abu Rmeileh, who last month became
the first-ever Palestinian to qualify to compete in the world
Although Palestinian athletes have participated in the Games before
now, it had -- prior to Abu Rmeileh -- been by virtue of an honorary
invitation traditionally extended by the Olympic Committee to
countries which fail to reach qualifying standards.
"I feel great," he smiles. "I am very happy to be the first
Palestinian to qualify for the Olympics. I have achieved something
great -- I got the 20 points needed."
Fighters compete in events based on their weight and Abu Rmeileh, who
comes from the Old City of Jerusalem, will be in the 73kg (160
With the start of the Games just five weeks away, Abu Rmeileh is
training twice a week at his home club in annexed east Jerusalem,
which doubles as a wedding hall during the nights.
Half of the small, whitewashed hall of the Jerusalem Crescent Club is
covered with coloured mats. A few shelves high on the wall display
the silverware won in various competitions.
The other half of the room is stacked with dining chairs.
Abu Rmeileh spends most of his time sparring with five other judokas.
He is one of the oldest in the group, and also a teacher.
He spends two hours every day running, swimming and training at the
gym of the local YMCA in east Jerusalem, and another two hours of
judo later in the evening.
For this 28-year-old athlete, the historic trip to London comes after
more than 20 years of training, which began when he was a small child
accompanying his father, who was a judoka himself, to his training.
"I became attached to this sport with its fighting spirit and the
discipline it enforces," he says.
Qualifying for the London Games is evidence to Abu Rmeileh that
dreams come true.
"I always thought reaching the Olympics was an impossible dream. But
now, after qualifying, ´impossible´ means nothing," he said.
"I will try my best with all the strength I have to go and win
something. I am not going for the honour but to win in the name of
It is also a dream come true for his coach, Iyad Halabi.
"The Olympics is a big dream for everyone and it is the chance of a
lifetime," he says.
Hani al-Halabi, who heads the Palestinian Olympic squad, holds high
hopes for Abu Rmeileh.
"The fact that a Palestinian qualified to go to London is a great
achievement for Palestinian sport," he says.
"He deserved to qualify," he told AFP. "He already had some good
results that helped him qualify, especially in the last tournament he
went to in Japan."
The young judoka´s success should serve as an example to other
parents, he says.
"We need parents to encourage their children to get involved in
sports, especially judo, and to build a generation that is able to
represent Palestine in international competitions."
And his long-term hope is that once the Palestinians achieve their
long-awaited state, they will be able to bring in professionals from
overseas to help train their athletes.
"I hope we´ll have a free Palestinian state like any other country so
we can bring coaches and specialists from abroad to achieve more in
sports," he says.
In total, five Palestinians will be representing their country at the
The other four are Bahaa al-Farra, a 400-metre runner from Gaza,
Wurud Sawalha, an 800m runner from Nablus, Sabine Hazbun, a swimmer
from Bethlehem, who specialises in the 50m butterfly and 50m
freestyle, and Ahmed Jibril, who lives in Egypt and competes in the
Despite Abu Rmeileh´s huge success, none of family -- which has a
shop selling scarves near Damascus Gate -- will be able to be with
him when he competes in London.
"No-one in my family will be able to come and see me because it was a
late qualification," he told AFP. "And it will take place during
Ramadan during high season for our shop in the Old City."
But even from distant Jerusalem, Abu Rmeileh will no doubt feel the
influence of his father when setting foot on the Olympian judo mats
"My dad told me he cannot express his pride enough," Abu Rmeileh
says. "He says I am living his dream." (Copyright © 2012 Agence
France Presse. 06/21/12)
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