Palestinian long distance runner moving closer to 2012 Olympics

Nader al-Masri trains on the sandy streets of Gaza City in 2008. Photo credit: Hatem Moussa / AP

Nader al-Masri defies the occupation of his homeland. At age 30, Nader can be seen sprinting through the streets of Gaza. He’s a world-class athlete who’s trained most of his adult life for a chance to run the 5000m race at the Olympics. The opportunity came in 2008 when he was chosen to participate in the summer Olympics in Beijing. Now he is well on his way to running in London in 2012 as well.

Donning his official running uniform which he saves only for special moments, he was one of only four athletes to represent Palestine during the opening ceremony in 2008. An Israeli Occupation couldn’t hold him back — although it came very close. Months after hearing that he was chosen to participate in the Games, Nader was still being held (well, incarcerated really) in the Gaza Strip, facing denial after denial by the Israeli military. TIME Magazine, which marked him as #32 in the top 100 athletes to look out for during the competition, found that it took the collective efforts of Israeli human rights activists to finally convince Israel to let Nader participate.

That was two years ago. Today, he continues to improve his 5000m time, running it in about 14 minutes. I did a bit of long distance running on the track team in high school and I’m in awe by this feat. It took me 14 minutes to run a mile (~1600m).

Because of his expected participation in 2012’s Olympic Games in London, BBC News has been following Nader closely over the last few months, documenting both his training and his unique way of resisting the Occupation. In the latest segment/mini-feature, BBC comments on his shoes. In 2008, he had to borrow a pair of running spikes. He currently runs in a pair of shoes he’s been wearing for more than twelve months. But the lack of equipment, and the lack of track circuits for that matter, hasn’t ever slowed Nader down.

Nader is a perfect example of the power of the human to withstand even the most oppressive of conditions. It’s always refreshing to see how vibrant life can be even under a very, very suffocating siege in Palestine.

(Special thanks to Sanah Yassin for informing me about this.)

Sami Kishawi

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