Syr­ian Ghazal leaps over ad­min bar­ri­ers

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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 champs and three Olympics, his sev­en­th­placed fin­ish in Rio last sum­mer 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 six­month 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. — AFP

Syr­ian high jumper Majd Ed­din Ghazal

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