At least six athletes will represent Palestine at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, forming the nation’s largest Olympic delegation since its first participation in the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
Palestine’s 2016 Olympic squad currently has two swimmers, two runners, a judoka and a dressage rider.
Reuters reports that swimmers Mary Al-Atrash and Ahmed Jibril, runner Mohammed Abu Khoussa and judoka Simon Yacoub have been invited by the International Olympic Committee to compete in Rio 2016 under a program for countries whose athletes have not fulfilled the qualifying standards.
Here's a closer look at the 6 Palestinian athletes heading to Rio.
1. Mary Al-Atrash (Swimmer)
Atrash’s Olympic dream coming true was recently confirmed when she was invited to the 50 meter freestyle swimming race in Rio. Atrash has fallen short of the 25.28 second qualification benchmark with a personal best of 29.91 seconds. “I am overjoyed. It is every Palestinian athlete’s dream to represent the country in such competitions,” she told Al-Ghad .
The 22-year-old university graduate has been training hard to pull off her best performance this summer, but limited resources and lack of adequate facilities inevitably push her back. She trains in a 25-meter pool, half the size of an Olympic pool, which is nowhere to be found within the Palestinian territories.
"I am very happy that there is someone from Palestine who will represent us in the Olympics. This is something to be proud of, especially with the limited resources we have," her coach Musa Nawawra said.
2. Ahmed Jibril (Swimmer)
Jibril was invited to swim in the 200 and 400 meter freestyle events at the 2016 Olympics. Jibril previously represented Palestine in London’s 2012 Games and finished in 27th place. He believes that despite how fierce the competition will be, competing against the world’s top athletes is a feat in and of itself. Raising the Palestinian flag in this global sporting spectacle delivers a strong message that reminds the world of the persistence of the Palestinian people who love life, he says.
3. Mohammed Abu Khoussa (Runner)
Khoussa will run in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. He won bronze this February for the 60 meter race at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship that was held in Qatar. He also finished first and third in the 200 and 100 meter races, respectively, at an international tournament in France in 2014, setting a national Palestinian record. He had previously set a Palestinian record at the 2013 Athletics World Championship.
4. Mayada Al-Sayed (Runner)
Sayed will participate in the marathon. Born in Berlin to a German mother and a Palestinian father, she qualified to Rio 2016 by coming in under the 2:45:00 entry standard and clocking 2:41:44 for the 42.195 kilometers distance at the 2015 Hamburg Marathon. That timing also qualified her to the 2015 World Athletics Championship, where she finished 50th out of 67 marathon runners. She became the first Palestinian woman to run the marathon at the World Championships, and will be a pioneer yet again this summer as the first Palestinian – female or male – marathon Olympian.
5. Simon Yacoub (Judoka)
Also Palestinian and German, Yacoub, who is heading to the extra-lightweight category in the 2016 Olympics, has won several national titles in Germany and competed in the 2014 World Judo Championship.
6. Christian Zimmerman (Dressage Rider)
Zimmermann holds Palestinian and German nationalities as well. He qualified to Rio 2016 by topping the Africa and Middle East individual Olympic ranking.
Other Palestinian athletes still hope to make the cut for Rio 2016. Sprinter Mohammed Al-Khatib continues to strive towards the qualifying minimum, from which he is milliseconds away.
While a Palestinian podium-finish at the 2016 Summer Olympics is a long shot, these athletes are undoubtedly working hard to deliver impressive results in Rio, hoping to make their country proud.
Palestine’s participation in the Olympics is both symbolic and political, said Al-Sayed Dawoud Metwali, a member of the Palestinian Olympic Committee. "It enables us to raise the Palestinian flag at such an international sports event," he told Al Arabiya .
"We want to prove that we are an independent entity and that we are represented in the international scene even if on a small scale."