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London Olympics 2012

Woroud Sawalha


Woroud SawalhaWoroud SawalhaWoroud SawalhaWoroud SawalhaWoroud Sawalha

Woroud Sawalha, born in 1991 in Asira ash-Shamaliya, Palestine is an 800 meters runner who will be one of four athletes competing under the Palestinian flag at the London Olympics, and the only woman. Sawalha, who will stand out in the starting blocks because of her black headscarf, long-sleeved top and long pants, knows that when she competes in London, she won't just be there representing herself. The appearance itself is controversial as the United Nations does not recognize a Palestinian state but its athletes have been allowed to compete under a Palestinian flag by the International Olympic Committee and soccer's ruling body FIFA since 1996 and 1998 respectively.

"This will reflect on my female friends and on sports in Palestine," she said. "Maybe the view of girls will change from practicing sports in a more professional way and more freely in front of people." Sawalha says that running with a head scarf is no big deal.

“My dream is to change the reality of veiled women and to be a part of all sports,” says Sawalha.

Born in 1991 in Asira ash-Shamaliya near Nablus, she trains at the University of Al-Najah, but is forced to deal with the lack of a proper running track in Palestine. Nevertheless, she feels that her participation will help to encourage more girls and women to value sports and to see them as a way of changing society’s view of those who follow religious tradition. “Religion encourages sport,” she points out, “not vice versa.”

Woroud Sawalha does not feel that she will win a medal at the London Olympics, or even likely to get beyond the first round of the 800 meters. But for this 20-year-old and her three teammates, just competing under the Palestinian flag is a source of great pride.

"It means a lot for me that I am female and representing Palestine," she says. "I will represent my hometown Asira ash-Shamaliya, Palestine and my university."

Asira ash-Shamaliya is a village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants in the northern West Bank, where protests and tear gas form part of everyday life in a region still fighting for independence from Israel after two decades of struggle. In Arabic, the word Asira means firewood due to the town's abundance of forests which was used by residents to sell firewood.

Three national teams have never sent women to the Olympics. Palestinians have competed in the Olympics under their own flag since 1996 and sent their first female athlete in 2000. But Sawalha believes the fact that she was only told six months ago that she would be going to London for the Olympic Games is indicative of how nonchalantly women's sports are taken in Palestine.

She had her first taste of top-level international competition earlier this year at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. She clocked two minutes 51.87 seconds in her heat for a personal best that was still more than 53 seconds slower than the gold medal-winning time. Given her lack of proper facilities for getting prepared and the scant training resources available in her homeland, Sawalha knows a medal is likely beyond her, so her target is to further improve her personal best.

"Miracles do happen, and with God's help I will hopefully get a good result," she said. "Since they selected me for the Olympics, my running time has gone from four minutes to just under three, so I've seen a big improvement..."

See her profile at the: International Association of Athletics Federations

Video of Wourod Sawalha produced and filmed by Marian Lacombe: video.ft.com

source: www.wikipedia.org







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