Maher Abu Rmeileh: Palestine’s Best Chance for Gold

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Palestinian judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh (R) folds a scarf at his father’s shop in Jerusalem’s Old City June 18, 2012. When Abu Rmeileh makes his bow on the Olympic judo mat in London this month, he will become the first Palestinian to compete at a Games on merit. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM)

In 1996, not long after the Oslo Accords, Palestine sent its first-ever team to the Olympics. The two-person team, both runners from Gaza, didn’t do so well in Atlanta: Majdi Abu Marahil, the team’s 32-year-old flag-bearer, came in last place in the first round heats of the Mens 10,000m race; distance runner Ehab Salama did not place, either.

The Palestinian Olympic team has come a long way. Though still small, it’s the biggest team yet, with two athletes (Bahaa Al Faraa competing in the men’s 400m and Woroud Sawalha in the women’s 800m), two swimmers (Ahmed Jibral in the men’s 400m freestyle and Sabine Hazboun in the women’s 50m freestyle) and one judoka, Maher Abu Rmeileh.

It is Abu Rmeileh who holds the best chance at a medal in London. The 28-year-old is a judo champion, the son of a judo coach. He is also the first Palestinian to ever qualify for the Olympics; the other athletes, in 2012 and in prior years, competed on special invitation from the IOC, extended to athletes from countries where training conditions are poor.

Palestinian judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh stands with his sons at a barber shop in Jerusalem’s Old City June 22, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM)

Abu Rmeileh is ranked 162nd in the world for his category (73-kilograms) by the International Judo Federation. Born in East Jerusalem, the judo champion is also a family man, with two young sons. By day, he works in his family’s shop selling scarves.

For more on Rmeileh, see this original LivePulse video from Al-Monitor.