“I saw how happy people were. They partied all night because a Palestinian had won thanks to the votes of the public across the Arab world. I told myself ‘Imagine what it could be like if a Palestinian won a global competition,'” Khatib, a 25-year-old yoga and fitness instructor, told The National .
Despite having won a silver and two bronze Paralympic medals, Palestinian athletes have not achieved an Olympic title since their first participation in the Games in 1996. The reasons are quite clear; the deficit in funding, facilities, equipment, and professional trainers, along with the restrictions imposed on athletes by the occupation have made it extremely difficult for Palestinians to pursue professional sports careers.
But despite the daily struggle to survive, some Palestinians have risen above their war-torn existence and found refuge in sports, forgetting – according to Khatib – their misfortunes for a few hours every week. In the London 2012 Olympic Games, judoka Maher Abu Rmelleh was the first ever Palestinian athlete to qualify for the Olympics on merit rather than as a wildcard pick.
Four years later, Khatib seeks to make Palestinian history once again, with his eyes on the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.
Khatib grew up in Hebron, southern West Bank, which is one of the most volatile areas in Palestine. He started playing sports at 16, when he spent a year as a foreign exchange student at Sammamish High School in Washington D.C.
He first considered participating in the Olympics after seeing 15-year-old Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Her success proved to him that a determined athlete from a small country could win at the Olympics.
Mohammed Assaf’s victory was the last push towards putting his dream into action. Khatib started watching 100 m and 200 m sprint workouts on YouTube and implementing them wherever possible; on streets, high school tracks, or at the Birzeit University asphalt track.
“There are football stadiums but for athletics, almost nothing,” he says. “There are 100-meter tracks, but they are asphalt and can cause injuries.”
Last December, Khatib uploaded a video titled “Run for Palestine” on YouTube, in which he talked about his story, goals and needs. The runner aimed to raise $7,850 to travel to Texas and train with a professional coach who believed he could help Khatib come in under the qualifying time of 10.16 seconds in three months.
His campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website, raised $12,765 in less than four days, and he promised to donate the extra funds to the Jericho Youth Club's Running Team in West Bank.
According to Al Jazeera , Khatib has brought his 100m time down from 15 to 11 seconds. Until the qualification for Rio 2016 ends on July 11, he will be training to trim those last milliseconds. If he does not make the time, he might still be granted a wildcard spot.
As for the trigger behind Khatib’s pursuit, he has emphasized in many of his statements that it is his dream to make his country proud, create hope, and show the world what Palestinians are capable of achieving.
He told Purpose2Play that, apart from the Olympics, he hopes to use his degrees in sociology and anthropology to implement health changes in Palestine and promote the importance of sports for spiritual, mental and physical health.