Friday, March 05, 2021

Counting down to Rio: Mary Al-Atrash scores invitation to the Olympics despite lack of resources

By Lili Martinez - July 23, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [ Beit Sahour] [Olympics Games] [sports]

With less than a month remaining until the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, six Palestinian athletes are proudly training to represent their team on the international stage. It is the largest delegation Palestine has sent to the Olympics since 1996. Mary Al-Atrash, a 22-year-old swimmer from Beit Sahour near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, is one of these Olympic hopefuls.

Born into a family of athletes — her father was a footballer, and two brothers also swim — Atrash has felt comfortable in a pool she was seven. After years of training, she has achieved stellar times and, now, has her eye on the Olympics.

Mary Al-Atrash, a 22-year-old swimmer will represent Palestine in the 50-meter freestyle during the Olympics Games 2016 in Rio

Atrash will participate in the 50-meter freestyle, although her best time of 29.91 seconds is over four seconds slower than the Olympic qualifying threshold of 25.28 seconds. She was selected to compete in Rio under an International Olympic Committee programme which allows athletes who have not attained the qualifying time to participate in the games.

Raised just ten kilometers from Jerusalem, Atrash has never had access to the 50-meter Olympic sized pools located there, which any athlete training for the Olympics would prefer. Instead, she has had to make do with a 25-meter pool and twice-a-day training, every day, with coach Musa Nawawra.

Mary Al-Atrash and her coach Musa Nawara during a training 

The lack of an adequately sized pool has affected Atrash’s training regimen, according to Nawawra. “It’s vital to train in an Olympic pool, but this doesn’t exist in Palestine,” he explained to Palestine Monitor. It would be nearly impossible for Atrash to get the required permit to train in Jerusalem every day.

Both Atrash and her coach said they were overjoyed at the chance to advocate for Palestine on the international stage. “I am really proud to represent Palestine and be one of the chosen ones in the Olympic delegation,” Atrash told Palestine Monitor. “It is a dream of all Palestinian athletes to participate in a championship like this.”

It is a dream of all Palestinian athletes to participate in a championship like this.

“Participating in this international celebration will spread our message as Palestinians all around the world so every country can see how we live, the circumstances we face, and how we overcome them. We will raise the Palestinian flag and the Palestinian name in Rio,” Atrash added.

Without adequate resources, it has been difficult for Atrash to reach an Olympic qualifying time, so she is grateful for the special invitation to compete. “Our capabilities are very basic and humble compared to the rest of the world,” Atrash said. “We don’t have [...] trainers who are specialists following us from the beginning of our careers, helping with fitness and nutrition. But we are ready to tackle these difficulties to compete in the Olympics.”

Atrash hopes her success in swimming will inspire other young Palestinians to take up the sport. “I encourage every swimmer and athlete in Palestine to have ambition and hope and to walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before them,” she said.

Atrash recently traveled to Algeria, where she will train — in a real, Olympic-sized 50-meter pool — at the invitation of the Algerian Olympic Committee. 

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