Gharid Ghrouf (© AFP)
It’s a long way from Gaza to Osaka as 16-year-old Gharid Ghrouf can attest. The sole member of the Palestine team arrived in Japan with her coach last Sunday after enduring three days of travel from her homeland.
To make matters worse, upon arrival she discovered she was entered in the wrong event, a clerical error on the part of someone in her federation, apparently. Instead of competing in the 100m and 200m she found herself lining up in the women’s 800m first round heat against superstar Maria Mutola.
“It was very difficult I had been training for 100m and 200m but suddenly I had to do the 800m which is something very different for me,” she says, “I was very afraid to do the 800m but I tried to do my best. I recognised Maria Mutola and some of the other athletes.”
She finished 8th in her heat in a time of 2:30.35 well behind Mutola’s winning mark of 2:00.00.
The circuitous journey took her from the West Bank to Israel where she was forced to spend a day. Then it was off to Jordan where she boarded another plane for Bangkok, before making a connection for Osaka.
“That trip was very tiring,” coach and team leader Youseff Hamadan explains, “But this also does something psychologically to the athletes and after that she found out she had to run the 800m. She brought spikes especially for 100m and 200m not for 800m.”
“There are other athletes from Gaza but three years ago one tried to come out to a competition but they wouldn't let her.”
Ghrouf lives in Jericho with her parents and three brothers. The family has a farm on which they grow vegetables for sustenance while she attends high school.
“I want to study at college or university afterwards and be a sports teacher and coach,” she reveals. “I hope to study at the university in Tunisia and somebody talked to me about studying in Luxembourg and France. But it is difficult to have contact with my family in France or Luxembourg so it is better for me to go to school in Tunisia.”
Life in Jericho she says is comfortable and she and her family have never experienced any problems with the various political factions nor have the suffered any form of violence. But she is a source of pride as she wracks up air miles in the name of sport.
“My family is happy because I am an athlete and I am doing sport,” she says. “They think I am doing something good.”
The training group she belongs to includes Hamadan’s daughter and several other promising athletes but they have very little in the way of facilities. They train on a dusty soil track although they sometimes have had the good fortune of training in Tunis.
She has a pair of spikes and a non descript pair of trainers. That’s it.
Standing in the lobby of the Osaka hotel where she is staying, she is wearing a well worn baseball cap and a t-shirt and watches famous athletes walk past in their brand new sponsored wear. It must seem like another world to her.
Gharid has been training with Hamadan’s group for the past four years and has personal best times of 13.18 seconds and 28.58 seconds in the 100m/200m a far cry from the level expected at a world championships.
Thanks to the Osaka error, she can know also point to that personal best 800m time of 2:30.35.
A delightful young lady, Gharid laughs when asked what memories of Osaka she will take back to Palestine.
“I will remember how I ran in the 800m,” she responds, laughing again.
Paul Gains for the IAAF