The Olympic dream of Palestinian athletes

The Olympic dream of Palestinian athletes
The Olympic dream of Palestinian athletes

Funny place for an Olympic dream. In the south of Thailand, the island of Phuket has the reputation of a magnet for Westerners and Russians in search of warm sand and lagoon blue water. Not really an Eldorado for ambitious athletes. However, it is there, in the charming premises of Rajabhat University, surrounded by countless hotels, that part of the world’s elite in weightlifting met at the start of spring. For the approximately four hundred and fifty athletes present, one last chance to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games.

Mohammed Hamada, just 22 years old, knows it. This April 7, the young man, with a thick neck and strong shoulders, competes in the under 96 kilo category. Squatting, back straight and buttocks backward, he places his hands covered in talcum powder on the bar. A few seconds of concentration, then he vigorously propels 100 kilos above his head, arms outstretched, as the snatch movement requires.

In the clean and jerk, which consists of lifting the bar to the shoulders, then straightening up before projecting it above the head, he validates a test at 120 kilos. Far, very far from the favorites, which peak at more than 150 kilos in the snatch and beyond 200 kilos in the clean and jerk. Of the nine competitors in his category, Mohammed Hamada finished last. Cautious, he preferred to raise ” light “, well below his records – 168 kilos in the snatch, 200 in the clean and jerk. No need to exhaust yourself, your chances of qualifying against the big names being almost zero.

Far from Gaza

But the main thing was elsewhere. Because the feat, for Mohammed Hamada, consisted first of all in being there, in Phuket. So, before his trials, he raised his index finger to the sky. Then, after each bar lift, he proudly pointed to the small flag of Palestine plastered on his red and black jumpsuit. A way of reminding us that, a few weeks before Thailand, he was not training like his opponents. He was just trying to survive in the chaos of Gaza.

Beyond the results, the competition in Phuket therefore had, for him, a “special flavor”. The day after his performance, the big guy tells us the emotion felt: “I represented my family, my people, and all of Palestine. » There he is comfortably installed, in flip-flops, shorts and black polo shirt, in the lobby of the luxurious Ramada Hotel, a five-star hotel in the Peranakan architectural style, a mix of oriental and European influences, where some of the sportsmen stay. But, in his hoarse voice, which contrasts with his youthful features, it is a completely different setting that he tells, made up of scenes of horror and desolation. At his side, his trainer and big brother Hossam, 39, listens to him retrace “six months of siege, destruction and hunger”.

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