The summer Olympics, supposed to take place in Tokyo in 2020, have been postponed to 2021 due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
Athletes who have been training hard for years are disappointed they will be unable to show the effort and time they put in. They are even more disappointed that they will be unable to represent their country and make people in their homelands proud.
Mohammed Al-Khatib, a 200m/400m sprinter training to represent Palestine in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, wants to win the first Olympic medal for his country.
“Growing up in Palestine, I was confronted everyday with political, social and economic obstacles to my basic human rights. These obstacles have drained hope from many Palestinians and left us with little will to dream and change the world for our people,” he said.
“But watching the 2012 London Olympics stirred my heart – I watched various athletes compete and make history for their countries, many being around my age or even younger. I kept thinking to myself, ‘If they can do it, what’s stopping me from doing the same?'” he added.
Khatib drew inspiration from Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, who was the winner of “Arab Idol” in 2013.
“On the night of the finale, I laid in bed until 3am, unable to sleep from the cheering and dancing outside my house,” he said.
President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee Yoshiro Mori (R), and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee CEO Toshiro Muto, wearing face masks leave a news conference after giving a presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the rearrangement of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games for next year. (AFP)
“’If a Palestinian winning a singing competition sparked so much hope and joy, how would it be if a Palestinian won the first Olympic medal in history?’ I thought. A light bulb went off inside my head; from that point on my dream crystallized into what it is today – my journey as an Olympic hopeful,” Khatib added.
Khatib’s main obstacle is the lack of funding to properly train. He could not pay for a coach and used whatever resources he had to train himself.
“I’ve already been an avid runner since the last decade, preferring the 100m, 200m, and 400m dash. But when I decided to start training professionally for the 2016 Rio Olympics, I had no idea what that would look like, or how I’d get there. Despite Palestine lacking in proper facilities and coaching, I looked to YouTube for training videos, and I began running at my university’s 200m asphalt track, with a friend to keep time. It just felt like the right thing to do, as I knew that God and my community wanted me to start somewhere,” he said.
“As training progressed, my times were significantly improving, but it wasn’t enough to qualify. It was the end of 2015, and the inadequate facilities were limiting my potential. My coach Crystal Dunlap suggested that I launch a crowdfunding campaign to go to Houston, Texas and train with coach Bill Collins, a US National Track and Field Hall of Fame sprinter. I launched my first crowdfunding campaign, and by the end of the first day I already reached my goal. By the third day, I reached 162% of it. I realized that what I’m doing wasn’t my dream alone, but a dream that captured the hearts and minds of people around the world – Palestinian and not. They all wanted to see me win.”
While Khatib had a setback ahead of the 2016 games, he kept positive and was able to qualify for Tokyo 2021.
“Thanks to crowdfunding, I went to Texas and trained with coach Bill. I put every thought, breath and action into the sport, but unfortunately I was unable to meet the qualifying time for Rio 2016. When I realized that I couldn’t compete, I was disappointed for a moment, but then I thought: Even if I don’t qualify this Olympics, now I have four years of training for the next one, so I set my sights for Tokyo 2020 before Rio 2016’s opening ceremony,” he said.
“I continued training in Palestine in 2017 and in 2018, I launched my second viral crowd-funding campaign and returned to Houston for seven months, lowering my time in the 200m and 400m. When I came back to Palestine, I discovered the asphalt track I used from the beginning bulldozed and gone – what little facilities I had back home were now taken away from me. I felt so frustrated and demoralized that for the first time on my journey, I thought about quitting. But at many low points in our lives, God pulls us back so He would later launch us forward, and my family, friends and global online following was there to keep me going,” Khatib explained.
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