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Palestinian Athletes Prepare for Beijing Olympics


Many of the athletes who will take take part in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games have had to overcome challenges to qualify for their teams before going to Beijing. But few have overcome such tremendous obstacles as the four athletes who will make up the team representing the Palestinian territories. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from the West Bank city of Jericho.

It's a long way to Beijing from this hot dusty field in Jericho but these runners have been training for years to get there.

These two have made it: Nader Masri and Ghadeer Ghuruf will be running for Palestine this year. Nader says his dreams have come true.

Nader has been in training a long while. "I've been training for 10 years hoping to go to the Olympics and now my dream is coming true," Nader said.

This rundown field and dilapidated gym are where the Palestinian runners train. Palestinians have been sending athletes to the Olympics since the 1996 games in Atlanta, but their training facilities are anything but Olympic class.

For Nader the rundown track in Jericho is a vast improvement. Until recently, he was stuck in the Gaza Strip living in the Beit Hanoun refugee camp, where a training run could attract the attention of Israeli troops, who target the camp because Palestinian militants use it to fire rockets at Israel. Gaza is under a strict Israeli blockade. Israeli journalists and human rights activists had to fight for months to get permission for Nader to leave to go to Jericho, and now to Beijing.

Nader says the problems in Gaza have hurt him as an athlete, but he says all of his struggles will be worth it once he gets to compete in the 5,000 meter race in Beijing.

"It has certainly impacted my capabilities as a runner but my focus is on the Olympic games. I have one aim and I am going to achieve it," he said.

Nader's teammate Ghadeer will be one of the youngest athletes competing in Beijing. Only 17 years old, she has been training hard in the 100 and 200 meter events for seven years for this moment.

"I am going to represent Palestine, a country that is considered by many to be an irrelevant place," Ghadeer said. "It is not irrelevant. It has people like us - educated people. It has concerned and educated people and I am going to prove that to them at the Olympic games."

Nader and Ghadeer say they don't expect to win any medals in Beijing. Just being there will be enough - and knowing that the eyes of the world will see Palestinian athletes competing on a global stage.

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