Veteran Syrian high jumper Majd Eddin Ghazal will gladly put administrative hassles to one side as he bids for a third-ever world medal for his war-torn country.
Ghazal has been a regular on the global circuit, appearing in the last four World Championships and three Olympics, with his seventh-placed finish in Rio last summer being his best result.
But the 30-year-old admits that life has not been easy in Syria, where he is still based, much to the amazement of many fellow athletes.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the ongoing conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.
“If we didn’t face war in Syria, everything would have been different now, from the visa and financial issues to general athlete’s facilities like access to coaching and treatment,” Ghazal told AFP.
“We’re in a huge crisis, which affects the mentality of athletes.
“Daily life in Syria is extremely hard. You can’t imagine what we face on a daily basis.”
Ghazal added that he encountered problems travelling to compete internationally.
“I have big problems with embassies. They are sometimes afraid I am an immigrant,” he said.
“I’m an expert in embassies, where they are, their addresses, when they open, when they close, what documents you need for visas… I’m an administrative expert in this subject.”
Ghazal was refused a Moroccan visa for the Diamond League meeting in Rabat, but can now travel unimpeded in Europe thanks to a six-month Schengen visa he managed to obtain through a Spanish embassy.
While his daily training regime is based in Damascus, Ghazal also departs, from neighbouring Lebanese capital Beirut as there is no access to international flights from Syria, for overseas camps, notably in Barcelona and Russia over winter, thanks to financial support from the Syrian Athletics Federation.
“Everyone is surprised when I say I still train and live in Syria, especially as I am among the top six in the world,” said Ghazal, nominally employed as a government-paid sports teacher.
With coach Imad Sarraj in tow, Ghazal said the thing he missed when competing was the backroom staff most competitors take for granted.
“I don’t have a doctor, a physio, a masseur, I miss that a lot, especially in a championships where fatigue is great and you have to recover quickly,” he said.
“Because of minor muscular problems, or cramps, you might lose a championships and your heights may range between and 2.20 and 2.30, a huge gap.”
Ghazal, who has suffered pain in his take-off foot, first appears in action in Friday’s qualifiers, and he said: “I don’t think about nailing a certain height. My whole focus will be on reaching the final.”
His best this season has been 2.32m in last month’s Diamond League meet in Paris, while 2.36 in Beijing last year remains his personal best.
“I hope to be as ready as I was in Paris,” Ghazal said, adding that the overall standard of jumping had dipped in 2017.
“I expect surprises this year,” he warned.
Syria has two medals in the world champs, Ghada Shouaa having won heptathlon gold in 1995 and bronze in 1999.
Ghazal, whose first name Majd means “glory”, is backing himself to add a third for a country caught in the crosshairs of a bloody crisis.
* Provided by AFP
American Tori Bowie won the women’s 100 metres world title on Sunday making up for her silver in last year’s Olympics while Rio gold medallist Elaine Thompson struggled home in fifth place.
The 26-year-old made up metres on long time leader Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast to edge her with the final dip on the line.
Bowie fell to the ground after crossing the line and initially it was Ta Lou who celebrated only for the board to say otherwise.
“I had no idea that I had won,” said Bowie, who has a habit of hurling herself at the line in major championships finals having done a similar thing in the Olympic 200m final last year which saw her take the bronze.
“The only thing I knew was that tonight I was going to lay it all on the line.”
Bowie admitted that perhaps she should stop diving or dipping like that given the pain she was feeling.
“The dive doesn’t feel too good now,” she said. “But that has saved me in the past at championships…I never give up until I am over the line.
“Ta Lou went very fast but she always does so I wasn’t worried and I kept to my race.
“I have a few cuts and bruises but I will now focus on the 200m.”
The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers finished third while hot favourite and 100m Olympic champion Thompson faded to fifth.
The 25-year-old Jamaican had started well but by halfway she had been swallowed up and was unable to find an extra gear as she had done most of the season.
Justin Gatlin stunned the world to win the men’s 100m final on Saturday, thereby spoiling Jamaican legend Usain Bolt’s farewell party to take the gold medal at the World Athletics Championships.
But is Gatlin’s 100m win as bad for athletics as it’s being viewed?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.
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The defiant finger on the lips as the boos rained down at a shell-shocked Olymic Stadium said it all about the wretched Justin Gatlin and where Saturday night’s deflating win has left an embattled sport, which might not be able to weather another shot at its shattered credibility.
Like the serial killer coming back from the dead in a budget slasher movie, the two-time convicted drugs cheat denied Usain Bolt – genuine athletic royalty – the send-off in the 100 metres his epoch-defining achievements merit.
With this anticlimactic victory at the World Championships, a detested figure who feeds off opprobrium and has done so much damage to his pursuit delivered a further blow from which it may struggle to recover in the barren post-Bolt era.
There is a stark difference between the great competitor being denied a valedictory send-off by emerging 21-year-old American Christian Coleman, and the shameless 35-year-old compatriot for whom his very presence in the absence of a lifetime ban is an affront to everything the Olympic movement was set-up to represent.
This was, distinctly, not the required passing of the baton.
The scandals which have repeatedly rocked many elite sports in the previous decade ensure every outstanding achievement must be scrutinised.
But the current facts as they stand are that the gregarious Bolt walks away after next weekend’s 4x100m with multiple Games medals, the world record time, warm affections of fans and without a failed drugs test to his name. Gatlin’s abominate, unethical reputation merely highlights the issues which have bedevilled athletics.
The IAAF matches FIFA for shame and corruption. Bolt’s clean record and inspirational triumphs have, just about, maintained athletics’ dignity in a time of strife.
He “saved” athletics by defeating the demonised Gatlin at the 2015 edition. But the unsightly past re-emerged this weekend to critically impinge a frail future.
Sports are at their best when the drama is at its highest. In regards to entertainment, Justin Gatlin’s victory over Usain Bolt in the 100m at the World Championships was as dramatic as it gets. Was it the desired result for athletics? No.
The support was overwhelmingly in Bolt’s corner, with the beloved Jamaican racing the last individual 100m of his phenomenal career.
Few, if any, wanted to see the sprint superstar bested, let alone by the villainised Gatlin, who has twice been caught doping. A storybook ending is what everyone wanted, but it’s also what everyone expected.
The result we got can be characterised as many things, but one thing it can’t be labelled is ‘boring’. Sports thrive off unpredictability and if there was one negative that came with Bolt’s dominance over the years, it was that his unparalleled ability turned what should otherwise have been competitive events into a formality.
Bolt has always been a likeable figure, thanks to charisma and spotless record, so we didn’t become jaded by the dominance. He just stood too much for ‘good’ for his appeal to ever waver But light cannot exist without darkness and every hero needs a worthy villain.
There’s been even more reason to root for Bolt when his biggest rival of late has been a two-time drug cheat in Gatlin. The ‘good v evil’ narrative has been played up and played out, drawing even more eyes to athletics.
As Tony Montana said, you need people like Gatlin to point to and say “that’s the bad guy”. Otherwise, what else is there to contrast a figure like Bolt? And the bad guy needs to win sometimes, or he becomes inconsequential.
It’s the same reason why ‘Game of Thrones’ is the most popular show on television right now. So even though Bolt will no longer be around to challenge Gatlin, we’ll be eager to see someone else take up the mantle.