Athlete in war-torn Syria dreams of Olympic glory

Syrian gymnast Ahmad al-Sawas, the last national champion before the war knew that supporting the anti-government side in the five-year-old civil war would prevent him from being sent for the Rio Games.
Athlete in war-torn Syria dreams of Olympic glory
Gymnast Ahmad al-Sawas with his medals at home, in Syria
“I chose to be an athlete who participates in the revolution,” said Ahmad, who trains where he can for two hours a day - be it on a mattress on a soccer field, in a local hall or somersaulting off a wall. “I know that might cost me my future athletic career, I understand that very well.” Syria’s Olympic Committee is sending 7 athletes to compete in Rio this month, in athletics, swimming, judo, table tennis and weightlifting. 
That the committee is run out of Damascus by the government of President Bashar al-Assad has effectively ruled out anyone who lives in rebel-held areas, including the Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo where 19-year-old Ahmad makes a living selling and repairing electronic equipment in his father’s shop. Syria’s most populous city before the war, Aleppo has been divided between government-controlled and rebel-held zones throughout the conflict, which has killed well over 250,000 people. 
For Ahmad – who also fought with a rebel group for three months – being a champion athlete is part of a family tradition. His father Hisham, a Graeco-Roman wrestler, won medals in national competitions between 1983 and 2011. 
But Hisham’s career fell victim to politics, as authorities banned him from competing in international tournaments for alleged membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he denies.
Ahmad, who began gymnastics aged six, travelled to Russia for the 2012 Children of Asia games, and won the national championship in 2011, for which he received US$ 40 from the government as a participant. 
He admits missing Rio will be a big disappointment - “I’ve been training regularly and preparing myself” – though he is doing his best to ensure his talents still leave a legacy by giving free twohour gymnastics lessons to Aleppo children every other day.

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